By ROY BERKO
Theater history books refer to The Black Crook, which opened in 1866 in New York, as the first musical. However, according to Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, the conceivers of Something Rotten!, now on stage at Beck Center for the Arts, that honor should go to Omelette.
Never heard of Omelette? Unless you’ve seen the hysterically funny Something Rotten!, you don’t realize that Omelette is an in-joke at the center of a farcical plot that exposes how the Bottom brothers outsmarted the Elizabethan era’s literary rock star, William Shakespeare, in producing the world’s first musical.
Nick and Nigel Bottom, an egocentric actor and his naïve playwright-poet brother, live in the theatrical shadow of the Bard of Avon. They desire to take some of the attention away from (insert horn tribute) Will.
How to do it? (Easy.)
They pay a soothsayer, a maybe-relative of the famous Nostradamus, to look into the future. His predictions? Shakespeare’s greatest hit is going to be Omelette and the next big trend in theatre is going to be musicals, where the actors sing many of their lines. So, (of course) the duo starts to one-up Will by writing a musical play about fried eggs.
Their efforts result in a kick line of dancing eggs, a very funny story line, and ridiculous farcical actions. The musical numbers, “It’s a Musical “and “Make an Omelette,” rank with “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers as one of the funniest dances in musical history choreography, especially in the creative of choreographic mind of Martin Céspedes. (And, of course, the showstoppers get tumultuous applause from the appreciative audience.)
We observe Shakespeare as “a hack with a knack for stealing anything he can,” who swipes not only the title, but plot devices and lines from the naïve Nigel, which turn out to be “Will’s” “Hamlet.” (Oh, Hamlet, not Omelette!) As the soothsayer says, to audible groans, laughter and applause at the final curtain, “Well, I was close!”
From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” the musical is classical theater gone awry, complete with showstoppers, encore after encore, ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, cross-dressing, sexual allusions and many male costumes with huge codpieces, which are often used as pockets (with delightful effect).
There are numerous references to the Bard’s plays and Broadway musicals. Anyone not familiar with either of these topics might not get all the subtext, though they get waving playbills with the titles of the shows being referenced to help them.
How can a show with a score which contains “The Black Death,” “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” and “To Thine Own Self” be anything but filled with ridiculous delight?
Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them. This cast, with a few stumbles in direction, makes the difficult look easy.
The singing and dancing ensemble is outstanding.
Scott Sumerak amuses as Shakespeare, flitting around the stage, the obvious superstar of the Renaissance, (and the only one with a heavy British accent).
Eric Fancher is excellent as the uptight, obsessive Nick Bottom, whose mission in life is to out-bard the Bard. Ian Stewart is charming as the shy poet-writer, Nigel Bottom. Eileen Brady is lovely and sings well as the Disney-like princess, Nigel’s lady love.
Brian Altman swishes with gleeful ease as Brother Jeremiah. Theresa Kloos is women’s lib-correct as Nick’s put-upon wife, and Tim Tavcar gives new understanding to Shylock (yes, that Merchant of Venice Shylock.)
Matthew Wright delights, giving an award-winning performance as the bumbling Nostradamus. (Standing “O”, for Matthew.)
Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction is right on key. The songs are well interpreted and the large orchestra doesn’t drown out the performers.
Kudos to Ben Gantose for his lighting design and Angie Hayes for the sound.
The talented supporting performers all dance and sing with talent and enthusiasm thanks to energetic, farce-filled choreography. (Insert to the sound of trumpet trills….) Martin Céspedes again proves that he is one of the area’s best choreographers.
(Hmm…) Wonder why there was no song list in the program?
(Another question…) Though the “omelette number” worked well with the egg shells, why was that approach taken rather than the award-winning Broadway costume design of dancing omelettes, since the entire plot leads up to that production number? Only the director and costume designer know the answer. (And, speaking of costumes, why is there inconsistent use of Renaissance period design?)
Capsule judgment: “Something Rotten!” is a theatrical treat. This is an absolutely must-see for anyone who loves musical theatre and/or wants to experience a wonderful evening of dance, song and side-splitting laughter. It is actually worthy of a standing ovation!
Something Rotten! runs now through August 7 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave, in Lakewood Ohio. For tickets click here or call 216-521-2540 x10.