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3/23/2024     SOMETHING ROTTEN                              Rome Little Theatre



pgm Something Rotten.jpg

So, here’s the thing.  A musical on my “must-see” list from the last whatever years has been Something Rotten, the wildly inventive look at one of Shakespeare’s lesser known competitors (think the “P.D.Q. Bach of Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights”).  I encountered the BIG Production Number “It’s a Musical” on the Macy’s Parade telecast from – I’m saying 2015? – and fell in love with its wildly inventive show-sampling set-up and its unabashed joy of musicals – and all the nay-sayers who hate them.  That it featured Shakespeare as a Rock Star only added fuel to the fire in my “GOTTA SEE THIS” obsession-file.


Last month, a production in Carrollton was sadly edged off my calendar because … Science Reasons (mostly related to my medical aversion to driving that far south).  To my delight, another production (in an equally distant northerer venue) followed on its Elizabethan heels.  That did not involve navigating Atlanta traffic, so I plopped my Master Card down and actually bought a ticket (truthfully, I’ve been promoting the Rome Little Theatre’s productions for a few years now and probably could have weaseled a Media Comp out of them, but, well, I am at heart lazy), set my GPS to one of the “all roads” leading to Rome, and headed north.

Yes, we are miles away from the resource-rich Mecca that is Atlanta Metro, but, still, Rome Little Theatre managed to collect an impressive group of theatrical talent and artisans to put on a show – no a Muuuuusical! – that was truly delightful, well worth the long commute (even the after-dark-with-my-execrable-night-vision drive back home – which strangely enough, Google Maps guided me without leading me to I-75).  Sure, there were a few moments of Community-Theatre distractions/irritants (most of which I’ve been known to indulge in myself (**) involving lack-of-precision tech cues, speakers too close to the audience to really “place” the voices, and a (very) few ensemble members who never smiled and looked as if the whole thing were a chore demanded by peers or parents).


But everything that truly counts – performances by the principles, execution of music and song (the live pit were as good as any I’ve seen), a set design that was both clever and adaptable (and what a joy to experience an old-fashion pull-the ropes by hand backstage shift plot that took me back to my high school and college days).  As I’ve frequently written, high-tech gimcrackery is a razzle-dazzle that distracts as often as it enhances.


And the show itself is everything I always imagined it would be.  It was overflowing with both musical and Shakespearean Easter Eggs designed to delight those of us in the center of the Venn diagram of Musical and Shakespeare nerddom.


Welcome to the Renaissance!  We are “between plagues,” Shakespeare is a rock idol, women are held in thrall by fathers and husbands, and, for good measure, a plague of Puritans parades about London, passing judgment and preaching whatever the opposite of pleasure happens to be at the moment.  Nick and Nigel Botton run a bottom-of-the-barrel troupe of actors, hard at work on a new play about Richard II (whom Nick seems to confuse with Richard III).  But that Stratford hack Shakespeare has just opened his own look at the “sad tale of the death of kings” story about that earlier monarch.


In desperation, Nick (who is the entrepreneur – Nigel is the poet/talent) consults a lesser nephew of Nostradamus to “steal” Shakespeare’s future “Greatest Hit.”  Nostradamus instead predicts Musicals and the “greatest play ever written – Omelet, the Danish Pastry.”  I’m laughing already.  Along the way, Nigel falls in love with the daughter of a Puritan Firebrand,  a young woman who shares his love of poetry and double entendres, Nick’s wife Bea disguises herself as a man to make some extra household money, Shylock the moneylender comes “out” as a rabid theatre-lover and wants to back the Bottoms but can’t because of anti-Semitic laws and whatnot, and Shakespeare himself is having some writer’s block and disguises himself to steal the Bottoms’ play.  What tangled webs!  What a delight for the audience!


So, totally selling this production were the performances from the principles.   James Swendsen gave us a Nick Bottom who could have stepped out of the pages of Midsummer – loud and obnoxious, ready to leap in with the worst ideas ever imagined, but loyal (ish) to his friends and family.  Rick Williams gave us a Nigel who is a study in contrast – shy, gentle, kind, and with the heart of a poet.  His romance with young Portia (a bewimpled and beguiling Haley Pendleton) is the beating heart of this story, and their “I Love the Way” duet is as joyously silly as it is sweetly sincere.  Maegan Williams played Bea Bottom as a prototype Rosie-the-Riveter, all strength and determination.  I loved that she was tougher than all the guys who look down on “a woman doing a man’s job.”  She was indeed, Nick’s “Right Hand Man.”  Jackson Williams gave a grizzled and goofy Nostradamus, Tim Chestnut was a grim and grumpy Brother Jeremiah, and William Gowens was gleefully gregarious delight as Shakespeare.  An ensemble of ten or so filled out a bevy of smaller roles (and I loved that the Bottom Troupe had the character names of ALL of Shakespeare’s “Rude Mechanicals).  They sang well together and each created very specific and memorable characters with little exposition or stage time. 


The set by Caroline Clonts and Amanda Swendsen was a clever construct recalling the Globe and various Tudor taverns and homes, allowing for painless and quick segues, and the costumes by Mandy Maloney were everything you’d expect with plenty of witty flourishes that helped sell the humor of the play.


And, of course, Musical Director / Conductor / Keyboardist James Willis is to be truly commended for successfully “wrangling” his cast, chorus, and 8-piece pit orchestra and leading them all in a near-faultless performance of the marvelous score. 


But the true selling point here is this delightful Book and Score (Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick).  This show is a true pastiche of musical “samplings” and Shakespearean characters, a bawdy and delightfully crude look at life in the Renaissance (so much BETTER than the Middle Ages), and a tuneful wallow in the silliest idea for a musical you’re ever likely to see or hear.


Which is to say, I just may have to make that trek Rome-ward again.  Some day.  For the right play.  And maybe a matinee so I don’t have to drive home in the dark.


    --  Brad Rudy  (


#RomeLittleTheatre  #SomethingRotten


(**)  Okay, one thing I WILL talk about – the irritating habit of some Community Theatres to have a cast “receiving line” acting like a gauntlet between audience and exit after the show.  I hate this as a cast member (and usually refuse to participate if given the option) and hate it as an audience member.  It almost demands us to congratulate even substandard shows with weak smiles and “It was Interesting” dismissals.  If I want to talk to a cast member, I am happy to wait until the audience clears and the cast has changed into “street clothes.”  Blocking the exit like this is almost guaranteed to compel me to say something cruel and snarky to someone I’ve never met, maybe even saying something rotten!

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