LTA is back in a hilariously “Rotten!” way. Filling the seats again and filling our hearts with the laughter we so need, Little Theatre of Alexandria’s summer feature show is a throwback—the musical-within-a-musical, “Something Rotten!” This whimsical farce made its debut on Broadway in 2015 with a strong, two-year run. It garnered ten Tony nominations and won one for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Following in the steps of the audaciously silly, spoof crazes of “The Book of Mormon” and “Spamalot,” this is a show that combines some grand showcase numbers with punchlines and pratfalls.
…constant guffaws and groans as it operates on two levels—soaring vocals and low zingers…strong vocals, quips galore, and a supremely talented ensemble.
Once into the zaniness of 1590 London, this light, theatrical mélange—conceived by brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick with John O’Farrell on book—puts theatergoers into a state of constant guffaws and groans as it operates on two levels—soaring vocals and low zingers.
The setup? In merry old England we learn that writing/show biz is the name of the game in the opening number, “The Renaissance,” performed by the bubbly cast. The plot is centered around brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (a nicely balanced casting of Matt Liptak and Jack Dalrymple), two playwrights who are at the bottom, looking up at, arrgh, Shakespeare (rock star Noah Mutterperl). Nick shows how he feels in “I Hate Shakespeare,” a saucy rendition that sets the scene for every other scene—strong vocals, quips galore, and a supremely talented ensemble that make each number eye candy. Of course, the object of their jealousy is THE Bard, Shakespeare himself. A cross between Elvis and Conrad Birdie and replete in leather, he has literally gained celebrity status. As played by a deliciously smarmy Mutterperl, he is “Shakespeare in Love”—with himself.
The Bottom brothers do have modern problems. They are cash-strapped and need to come up with a new play idea, especially with the Lord Clapham (a foppish Brian Ash) and the Jewish money lender Shylock (local stalwart Peter Fannon) breathing down their necks and determining funding. Things are so tough that Nick’s enterprising wife, Bea (the engaging Anna Phillips-Brown) takes matters in her own hands and seeks work outside the home.
Meanwhile, Nigel falls head-over-heels for the poetry-loving Portia (a lilting Katie Conn). Yet her puritanical father, Brother Jeremiah (a bombastic Paul Caffrey), wants to shut down all theaters. Star-crossed lovers?
Throwing in a bit of cosmic confluence, Nick searches for inspiration and finds a spacey soothsayer named Thomas Nostradamus (a delightfully batty performance from the inimitable Chuck Dluhy). Nostradamus reveals to Nick that the next big breakthrough in the theater is going to be something called a musical, where characters, for no reason whatsoever, will suddenly break into song to the ecstasy of theatergoers.
Nick can hardly believe his ears, but he demands that Nostradamus poke his head into the future and point out Shakespeare’s greatest hit. This is when the plot goes from madcap to gaily mad. Dhuly, in a sputtering conjuring of the future, (leaving out the Ham) tells him about a famous Shakespeare play called “Omelette.”
“Like with eggs?” Nick asks, incredulous.
Nostradamus, visioning again, replies, “Yeah, something…maybe Danish?”
And poof, the world’s first breakfast musical is born. Nostradamus helps turn this Hamlet with eggs vehicle into an extravaganza that borrows characters and plot points from 20th century musical theater landmarks in “A Musical.” Act II threatens to go off the rails with all the nuttiness, but is kept under control by the capable cast.
Of course the setup provides one excuse after another for director Frank D. Shutts to invoke flamboyant, stage silliness. Shutts has the whole LTA band back together—Christopher Tomasino’s music direction and tight sound, choreographer Stefan Sittig’s stylized synchronization, and the production team of Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst, and Russel Wyland. LTA has a reputation of doing big well.
The youthful, talented cast also spins comic gold out of the material, while Robin Worthington’s colorful Elizabethan costumes and Robert S. Barr’s paneled, Tudor-era sets are fun and functional.
As a struggling playwright, Matt Liptak has a meaty, everyman role at which he excels, combined with a fine baritone and nimble steps. As the sensitive romantic brother Nigel, Jack Dalrymple is a revelation. He easily commands the stage with a simple facial expression and his effortless, clear tenor is a gift.
This show has so many great production numbers, including “Will Power,” “A Musical,” and “To Thine Own Self Be True,” that the supporting cast has almost as much stage time. We are even treated to the ensemble tap dancing in several of the numbers—not at the level of wow, but the coordination of the syncopated beat was quite impressive.
If its flagrant merriment you want, “Something Rotten!” will satisfy your fix.
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.
“Something Rotten!” runs through August 13, 2022 at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA. For more information, call 703 683-0496 or go online here. Covid policy: Proof of full COVID vaccination and wearing a mask indoors is required, including during the performance.