Take a big can of silly, add a few splashes of English lit, stir in at least three heaping tablespoons of useless musical theater knowledge, then dump in a glug or two of Led Zeppelin. For the final touch, spike with a shot or two of whisky (it helps babies sleep!).
Pictured above: Matthew Michael Janisse, left, as Nick Bottom, and Greg Kalafatas, as Nostradamus the Soothsayer in ‘Something Rotten!’ Photo: Jeremy Daniel
That’s the recipe for “Something Rotten!”, the crowd-pleaser of a musical that continues at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre for one more performance (7:30 p.m Wednesday, April 17). Other than some pretty serious sound problems, this non-Equity second national tour on opening night delivered a vigorous, skillful and amusing theatrical experience. A quick review rundown:
The premise: What’s worse than running a struggling theater company in London? Running a struggling theater company in London with Shakespeare as your biggest competition. That’s what the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, are up against. Desperate to make some money, Nick hires a soothsayer to predict what Shakespeare’s biggest hit will be — so he can steal it.
The music and lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick’s most hummable song is “A Musical,” which has definite lasting earworm potential as you’re heading out of the theater. The soothsayer (a terrific, blustery Greg Kalafatas) offers a preview of a world in which audiences line up around the block to watch actors inexplicably break into song and dance as their stories unfold. He gets his prognosticator wires a little crossed, which sets up the major comic premise: the premiere of a musical titled “Omelette.” (Rather than “Hamlet.”)
The acting: Matthew Michael Janisse is a hard-working and amiable Nick, and Matthew Baker finds a slick, rock-star sheen to Shakespeare. Jennifer Elizabeth Smith tiptoes between squeaky-clean good girl and innuendo quite daintily as Portia, the pretty Puritan who catches the eye of Nigel. Mark Saunders is blissfully pompous Brother Jeremiah (Portia’s grumpy father). And, performing as an understudy, Tim Fuchs brought an endearing, puppyish charm and crisp physical comedy to the role of Nigel. (I’d interviewed Richard Spitaletta, who normally plays the part, for my preview story, so I paid particular attention.)
The humor: Think of it as the three B’s: Bawdy, Broad and Bitchy. Overall, the decidedly non-Puritan audience didn’t seem to mind the almost constant sexual innuendo. Two older women sitting in front of me laughed so hard at a scene involving poetry and premature ejaculation that I thought they were going to break something. Perhaps the reason this show did so well on Broadway was that it was pure fluff.
The codpieces: Along that line, let me just say that the Renaissance-era pouches on view in the show could double as bowling balls.
My favorite song: Without a doubt, it’s “We See the Light,” a Puritan fantasy involving predestination and sequins, and in which Saunders, as Brother Jeremiah, gets to sparkle.
The sound: Yes, I have to be a little grumpy and get back to the sound. In the first couple of songs it was so tinny and muffled that I felt like I was underwater. It seemed to get better as the show progressed, or maybe I just got used to it. But it was a “Rotten” way to start a very funny show.