Something Rotten Returns

This musical takes Shakespeare down a peg


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

The musical, “Something Rotten,” was performed by the Pioneer Players the first two weekends of April at Brodbeck Concert Hall. The plotline is that the Bottom Brothers’ acting troupe wants to write a play that will not be written, or stolen, first by Shakespeare, a far more successful playwright. Nigel Bottom also gains the love of the magistrate’s daughter and his older brother, Nick Bottom, learns that his wife can also be his right-hand man.

The stage bathed in a blue glow as the audience filled the auditorium. Then a bass drum rumbled and trumpets’ fanfare began the musical. The first song,“Welcome to the Renaissance,” felt like a flash mob in the middle of a 1590s England town square. Cobblestone was painted on the stage floor.

The Bottom Brothers’ troupe was writing “Richard II” when they were notified by their patron that Shakespeare had just written that play and that they would no longer receive funding if they could not write something original.

The Bard introduced the concept that if someone’s name is Shakespeare, they are successful and that if someone goes by some other name, they are not. Nick then sang about how he hated Shakespeare, but his troupe defended Shakespeare. Nigel Bottom then sang a solo which revealed his lovely and delicate falsetto.

Nick returned home to his wife who wanted to contribute to the household funds. The stage was transformed with ease from a town square into a small home kitchen. She asked to be in her husband’s troupe to which he replied, “It’s illegal to put women on stage.” She sang about being her husband’s right-hand man with a well-rounded voice in a song with a demanding vocal range.

The stage changed back into the town square again when Nick met the nephew of Nostradamus, a soothsayer named Thomas. He predicted the next amazing thing in theater would be musicals, to which Nick retorted that singing dialogue is absurd. Thomas began tap dancing, and explained what a tap dance break is. The rest of the town showed up, and began tap dancing like another flash mob. This somehow became burlesque, which then became a line dance, and the audience awarded the performers with applause mid-song. Then the actors held renaissance portraits over their own faces. The song ended with Thomas doing a solo tap at the edge of the curtain.

In the next scene, Nigel met a woman who loved poetry as much as he did. They became star-crossed lovers when Nigel found out she was the magistrate’s daughter. The magistrate disapproved of his daughter’s interest in love while making many comments that were full of sexual ambiguity.

The Bottom Brothers’ troupe considered what to write for their musical, and became stuck on the idea of world news about “Black Death.” During the song, actors dressed as grim reapers swung scythes within a close vicinity of the troupe.

Shakespeare had originally been in the Bottom Brothers’ troupe, but Nick encouraged him to leave it and pursue writing. Shakespeare became very successful as a writer. Later in the play, he was introduced while being swooned by his audience as he performed a funk rock song all about himself. The character of Shakespeare spoke with an English accent, which only aided his character in standing out from the rest of the cast as uniquely evil, sassy and conniving. As he sang lines from “Romeo and Juliet,” the crowd cheered, then held up lit candles and swayed like they were listening to a ballad at a classic rock concert.

Shakespeare invited Nigel Bottom to a private party of his, and Nigel brought his new love interest, Portia, with him. Portia became intoxicated, and fainted into the crowd of people. This gave Shakespeare an opportunity to speak with Nigel one-on-one. He convinced Nigel that his written work was not amazing and that it could use some notes from the one and only Shakespeare. Nick showed up to the party, and took Nigel’s work from Shakespeare. Nick told Shakespeare he was a “shit actor.” Shakespeare replied, “I will smite these bottoms, and I’ll smite them hard.”

Nick and Timothy met again in town where Timothy used his soothsaying skills to learn what Shakespeare’s greatest play would someday be. Timothy misunderstood the soothsaying messages, and told Nick the name of the play would someday be “Omelet,” a parodic name of Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet.” Shakespeare interrupted them, and Nick and Shakespeare tapped and shuffled competitively. Nick wrote an entire musical about breakfast. With his troupe, he made a toast and said, “Bottoms up to ‘Omelet:’ The Musical!”

The Bard welcomed the audience in the second half of the musical with “Welcome to the Renaissance,” which had a brilliant vocal trill. Shakespeare made the opening of the second half about himself when he sang, “It’s hard to be the bard.” Then Shakespeare put a disguise on, and changed his accent from English to Scottish before he joined the Bottom Brothers’ troupe. He became a member of the troupe with the intention to steal Nigel’s poetry again.

Nigel read his poetry to Portia, who asked him to slow down. Soon after, Portia yelled, “Don’t stop!” When Nigel finished reading his poem, Portia passed out. This scene was one big sexual innuendo. Nigel apologized and said, “I finished too quickly.” Though they established they were star-crossed lovers, Portia sang to Nigel about how love finds a way with a vocal clarity and range of operatic singing. The magistrate joined the song with others, and opened his overcoat to reveal an array of bright rainbow designs hidden under the black fabric. However, he still forbade his daughter from seeing Nigel. The magistrate said, “I’m warning you, boy. Leave her be” He sassily snapped in a square and threatened, “or you will pay dearly.”

Nigel delicately sang another sad love song which inspired him to write even more. He changed details from Nick’s musical about breakfast. The troupe loved his new play, but his brother was determined to listen to the soothsayer’s advice. Shakespeare ended up with Nigel’s written work once more, and read it while Nick and Nigel argued. As Nigel stormed away from his brother, he took his poetry from Shakespeare’s hands. The troupe sang, “To thine ownself be true,” and clunked small cast iron pans together as an introduction of the props later used for Omelet: The Musical.

Nick Bottom’s wife ran into Nigel, and convinced him that Nick could not run the troupe or put on plays without him. Nick ran a dress rehearsal for the Omelet musical where they sang in a barbershop style, tap danced and dressed as eggs and chefs holding cast iron pans. The performance earned them more applause mid-song.

The Bottom Brothers’ troupe ended up in court where Nick Bottom said, “You will not make an ass of me,” which is a reference to the famous line from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when Nigel Bottom is turned into a donkey. Nick’s wife introduced herself as a lawyer and came to her husband’s defense. Instead of being beheaded, the Bottom Brothers’ acting troupe was “banish-ed” to the New World. Portia decided to move to the New World with Nigel and Nick learned that his wife could be his right-hand man. They then sang “Welcome to America” to the same tune as “Welcome to the Renaissance” sang at the start of the musical.