Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Something Rotten!
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas

Ted Smith and Nelson Brown
Photo by Erick Chazankin
Attention, musical theatre nerds, does 6th Street Playhouse have a show for you! For Something Rotten!, which opened this past weekend in the G.K. Hardt Theater, is an enormously entertaining romp through an imagined Elizabethan London where William Shakespeare (Garet Waterhouse) is the "it" boy of the era, reveling in his fame, with legions of adoring, squealing fans who mob him and hang on his every word as if he were a 16th century teen idol. And it is absolutely chock full of theatrical references–from almost every musical you've ever heard of.

The hordes of the Bard's admirers do not, however, include the two Bottom brothers, Nick (Nelson Brown) and Nigel (Lorenzo Aviso). Nick and Shakespeare had been fellow performers in an acting troupe, but have gone their separate ways: Shakespeare to fame and fortune, and Nick to a hardscrabble existence as a producer/performer, dependent on the support of his patron, Lord Clapham (Malik-Charles Wade). But when Clapham hears that Shakespeare's next play is based on the life of Richard II, which is also the play Nigel (the writer of the two brothers) is working on, he threatens to pull their funding. Unless, that is, they can come up with a new idea by the next morning.

Desperate for inspiration, Nick takes the meager savings he and his wife Bea (Megan Bartlett) have accumulated, and uses it to pay Nostradamus (Ted Smith) to peer into the future to tell him what the next big thing in theatre is going to be. This, however, is not the famed Nostradamus, but rather his nephew, Thomas. Ted Smith, wearing a fright wig that looks like the costumer (Mae Haegerty-Matos) could have picked it up at Tina Turner's estate sale, devours the role with the relish of a pig at slop. And I mean that in the best possible way, for Smith–with eyes that widen with delight, fear, or surprise (as each moment warrants)–gives a terrific comic performance.

But the fun really starts when the soothsayer tells Nick the next really big thing in theatre is going to be musicals. Nick is shocked at the idea that performers in a play would suddenly burst into song. The idea seems ludicrous to him–but in the very next moment he himself breaks into song with one of the best numbers of the night, "A Musical."

As Shylock, the moneylender who wants to both back the boys and be part of the troupe, Peter Downey almost steals the show. With his expressive face and perfect comic timing, Downey lights up the stage each time he appears. Shylock, it seems, loves the theatre more than anything, and when he explains his fandom by saying theatre "gives me nachas in my pupik," even those who may not know the Yiddish terms roar with laughter.

While Nick struggles to make sense of Nostradamus' advice, Nigel falls hopelessly in love with a Puritan girl, Portia (a silver-voiced Julianne Bretan), whose father, the Puritan minister Brother Jeremiah (John Griffen), disapproves. Not just of Nigel, or the theater, but pretty much everything: "pleasure is sin," he says. This obstacle actually seems to delight Portia and Nigel, who revel in the fact that they are now "star-crossed lovers."

Theatre buffs will have a wonderful time trying to keep track of all the musical and Shakespearean references, for they come at the us one after another–in songs, in dialogue, in physical business. And though some of the voices are a little weak, Waterhouse's tenor gets a little thin and reedy in his upper register, and the show drags a bit in act two, there is still a lot here to like.

Joseph Favalora's choreography is fun, and works well for a cast of non-professional dancers–though I miss seeing Favalora himself, who had shown his athletic dancing skills in previous 6th Street productions. The set by Carrie Mullen is a delightful collection of Tudor-style facades, with a central projection screen that helps establish other locations.

So brush up your Shakespeare and get yourself to Santa Rosa for a delightful–if imperfect–production of Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick's (music and lyrics, with assistance on the book from John O'Farrell) Something Rotten!.

Something Rotten! runs through June 25, 2023, at 6th Street Playhouse. G.K. Hardt Theater, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $35-$48 ($28 for those under 18). For tickets and information, please call or call 707-523-4185.