Something Rotten! is anything but: Zaidman’s 5-star review of the spring musical


Courtesy of Emily Wang OPENING NIGHT | Something Rotten! upstages the audience

James Zaidman, Staff Writer

Welcome to the Renaissance! This year, for the spring musical, the Department of Theatre & Dance has put on a rendition of the comedic musical “Something Rotten!” The musical, directed by theater teacher Benjamin Posner, debuted yesterday and will run for two more performances tonight and tomorrow. I had the pleasure of attending opening night and was delighted by the quality of the acting, the costumes, and the set.

Originally written in 2015 by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, “Something Rotten!” sends viewers to 16th century England, where fictional brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Bailey Hecht (12) and Etta Singer (11)) struggle to put on a play with their own theater troupe. Unfortunately for them, their short-lived popularity is slipping, and their patron, Lady Clapham (Amaris Christian (10)), threatens to sponsor the far more popular William Shakespeare’s (Athena Spencer (12)) newest production of “Richard II” instead of their play. The brothers decide they need to act fast and scramble to find the next big hit in theater, coming up with the idea of a “musical.” 

Most actors on stage had visible chemistry which aided the plot. During dance numbers, the entire ensemble performed in coordination with each other, and all the actors displayed a solid grasp of their character’s personality without ever overdoing it. 

Although I initially had concerns with the portrayal of Shylock (Alex Felberbaum (9)) due to potentially problematic Jewish stereotypes associated with the character, I was pleased to see that none of my concerns, or the similar concerns of others who I have spoken with, were realized. Felberbaum did not over-exaggerate Shylock’s personality, nor did he tone down his attitude too much. I credit Posner and Felberbaum for thoughtfully tackling the potentially problematic character.

The dynamic between actors often stood out as exceptional; I was so invested that the relationships began to seem real! One relationship that particularly stood out was Portia (Willa Davis (12)) and Nigel Bottom. The relationship between Portia, a member of a strict Puritan family, and Nigel was stringently forbidden and appealing to watch unfold on stage.

Courtesy of Emily Wang LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION | Bailey Hecht (12) gets into character.

The relationship between the Bottom brothers was also portrayed with great accuracy. The sour history between Nick and Shakespeare is not only apparent, but clearly exemplified,  with the two actors showing a constant undertone of contempt for each other.

I also appreciated how the costumes reflected each character’s personality. For example, Shakespeare’s shiny leather waistcoat emphasized his flashy essence. Similarly, Lady Clapham wore purple, an expensive and regal color at the time, rings on all fingers, two large earrings, and a heavy chain necklace to demonstrate her wealth. On the other hand, the positive and energetic Bea Bottom (Celia Stafford (11)) wore a bright pink skirt to emphasize her jovial personality. 

The set design and staging, while not too complicated, further elevated the scene. The color-changing backdrop of the River Thames brings the show to life, flashing different hues based on the emotional setting of the scene. For example, in moments of rage, the backdrop is lit bright red, but during gleeful moments such as during the number “A Musical,” the backdrop changes between bright colors like light purple and orange.

In the props department, London’s famous Globe Theater is replicated and placed at center stage, where important events, often involving Shakespeare, take place. In addition, different backdrops come down onto stage when scenes change. For instance, when Shakespeare recites some of his poems in a park, highly detailed, full-stage backdrops of trees fly in from above, painting the outdoor atmosphere. They are accompanied by bright lights to mimic the sun, which really sells the park’s setting.

Throughout the show, six styles of Renaissance-era houses and walls wheeled around the stage to illustrate scenes, allowing for fast changes in setting. At the same time, the house sets managed to add a layer of depth which could easily be lost with a larger number of sets.

For scenes and musical numbers with extra flair, two tied-off red curtains glided in from the sides of the stage, putting extra emphasis on the idea of “a show within a show.”

The lighting matched the on-stage mood and amplified it with bright reds, blues, and greens. Two spotlights moved effortlessly to highlight action across the stage, often focusing on prominent characters like Shakespeare or a Bottom brother, but also highlighting others like the minstrels (Isabella Ciriello (11), Juliet Burgess (11), Bethany Jarrett (11)). 

The incredible live band especially made the production stand out. Being able to hear the nuance of each instrument in a band as opposed to a recorded track added so much more depth to the show.

The volume of the music was well-controlled and balanced adequately with the characters. While most lead characters with musical solos have lavalier microphones to pick up and project their lines throughout the theater with no issue, when an actor without a microphone tried to speak over the music, their words were often drowned out, especially during “Welcome to the Renaissance,” which disappointed me. However, this is my only critique of the show. With the overall context, I was able to fill in what the actors might have said with no harm to the plot.

The first performance on Thursday was energetic and exciting. Although it experienced the usual mishaps that one would expect on an opening night, such as transitions taking longer than expected or curtains getting caught on set pieces, the overall experience was one to remember. The actors were always in sync with the band, and clearly enjoyed themselves, which always improves the quality of a performance.

The audience was also extremely receptive to the irony and comedy present in the show, with laughter heard after nearly all jokes, especially those which could be considered a bit more risky. At the final curtain call, the actors received a persistent standing ovation with “Welcome to America,” a semi-reprise of the opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance.” 

I was incredibly impressed by all aspects of “Something Rotten!” and would most definitely give it a deserving five stars! If you have the time this weekend, consider supporting your classmates in this showcase of their hard work and talent.