“Something Rotten!” is a Tony Award-winning musical comedy with book by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick, it is now playing at Toby’s Dinner Theatre. The musical opened on Broadway in April 2015 and was nominated for ten Tonys, including Best Musical. It won for Christian Borle as Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
You will find Toby’s “Something Rotten!” quite delicious.
The plot is farcical and takes place during Elizabethan times. Nick Bottom (Jeffrey Shankle)—yes, that is the character from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—and his brother Nigel (Ben Ribler) have their own acting troupe. They are in competition with Shakespeare (Justin Calhoun) and Nick rants about The Bard in “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” The brothers are about to lose their funding when Shakespeare puts out his version of “Richard II” before theirs. Throughout the plot, Nick, with Nigel’s help, tries to get the acclaim that his nemesis now has.
The play opens with an attention-grabber “The Renaissance” sung by a Minstrel (Shane Lowry). The number has many intricate word plays and is a warning to the audience to pay attention. Like many of the songs and dialogue to follow, it is chock full of name dropping of the rich and famous in Elizabethan and present times.
The number that brought down the house was “A Musical” sung by Nick and a local soothsayer, Nostradamus (Jordan B. Stocksdale), the nephew of the original Nostradamus. He tells Nick, to compete with Shakespeare, the Bottoms should write a musical. If you pay close attention to the lyrics, there is barely a show in the musical comedy genre that is not mentioned. The dancing, music, and lyrics are hilarious.
Mayhem ensues when the brothers decide to write the musical. It’s hysterical but very convoluted—more reason to go to Toby’s and unravel the tale. Characters from Shakespeare (or their namesakes) appear, as well as the author himself.
The Kirkpatricks give The Bard some of the best songs and O’Farrell some of the most humorous dialogue. Calhoun’s Shakespeare is a bit Elton John, a bit Mick Jagger and a good slice of Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is extremely vain and every inch the plagiarist literary historians have hinted at for years. Shakespeare’s two songs,”Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard” are drenched with egoism. Calhoun’s portrayal makes Shakespeare dislikable and very easy to laugh at. Along with his Bard Boys, the character becomes a scene stealer.
Of course, there are love stories. This is, after all, a modern musical. Nick and his wife, Bea (Janine Sunday), have a good marriage, but as with many of Shakespeare’s women, Bea is the stronger of the two. Sunday’s character is every bit as tough as the real Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing.” This becomes apparent in the delightful tune, “Right Hand Man.” Sunday gives a top-notch performance.
Nigel falls for a Puritan girl who is smitten with poetry and The Bard. Of course, keeping it Shakespearean, her name is Portia (Marina Yiannouris). Both Ribler and Yiannouris allow their characters to be clichés which was probably the writers’ aim. Their number, “I Love the Way” is loaded with double entendres. It all ends well with another fantastically choreographed number called “Omelette.” It is in true Toby’s style.
The play rests on Shankle’s shoulders and the talented performer is a perfect match for the pivotal role of Nick. He shines in “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and “It’s Eggs.” He keeps Nick from being an a*s, and creates a very empathetic Bottom, unlike his namesake from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Stocksdale is a riot as Nostradamus. Also adding to the humor is Robert Biedermann as Shylock and Adam Grabau as Brother Jeremiah, the Puritan father of Portia. The rest of the supporting cast, Lowry and David James as Lord Clapham/Master of the Justice, are strong in their roles.
The troupe which includes Brandon Bedore, Patrick Gover, Lawry, Ariel Messeca, Vince Musgrave, and the rest of the ensemble (MaryKate Brouillet, Tina DeSimone, Lydia Gifford, Amanda Kaplan, and Particia “Pep” Targete) add liveliness and gaiety to the production. Gover, for instance, dons female attire for most of the show a la Shakespearean theatre. This is worn over his male costume, codpiece and all, which adds adds to the humor. This holds true of every character—the actor and director have made them all individuals and everything work beautifully.
Minnick’s direction and choreography work create smooth transitions from dialogue to song and dance. He allows his actors’ talents to be in the spotlight.
David A. Hopkins’ scenic design is creative and works magnificently on Toby’s stage. Lynn Joslin’s lighting design helps create the mood in each scene. Gregg Barnes’ costume design captures the period but with some modern touches (Shakespeare’s costume in particular). The codpieces are intentionally very noticeable and added to the visual mirth. The musical direction under Ross Scott Rawlings is flawless. One of the great things about Toby’s is its live music.
You will find Toby’s “Something Rotten!” quite delicious. Every morsel is delectable.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: This show contains mild language and adult innuendos. Fog, haze and strobe effects may be used in this production.
“Something Rotten!” runs through March 19, 2023 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, Maryland 20144. Tickets can be purchased directly through the Box Office by calling 410-730-8311 or by going online through Ticketmaster. Tickets always include brunch or dinner. There are no Covid restrictions.