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For its second production during openings week the Stratford Festival offers its grand musical Something Rotten. It has a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell with music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick. Calling it grand is an understatement but it is a good start for a show that breaks all expectations in sheer energy, stamina, comic exuberance and entertainment. Extravaganza is closer to the mark.
A few words about its plot. We are in Elizabethan England, the Renaissance and a vibrant society is coming out of the Middle Ages, wars, plagues and other horrors and has reached the age of Shakespeare. Nick Bottom (Mark Uhre) and his brother Nigel (Henry Firmston) are in the theatre business and want to produce a play called Richard II. Great idea but William Shakespeare (Jeff Lillico) is about to do the same and they are out of luck and broke.
Their financial supporter, the formidable Lady Clapham (Khadijah Roberts-Abdulla) threatens to withdraw her backing forthwith unless they come up with something original. But what? The soothsayer Nostradamus (not the real one but his nephew) says that a musical is a great idea. Sounds great so they try a musical about the Black Death. Not very cheerful and Lady Clapham is not impressed.
Back to the soothsayer. What will Shakespeare’s greatest play be? He struggles and sees something to do with Danish pastry or an Omelette or eggs and the brothers embark on Omelette, The Musical. More about this later.
In Elizabethan England, the Puritans were on the rise, and one could say becoming a big pain in the behind, to avoid the three-letter word for a donkey. There is the fire-and-brimstone Brother Jeremiah (Juan Chioran) and his lovely daughter Portia (Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane) and she falls in love with Nigel. If you have a Portia, there must needs be a Shylock (Steve Ross) who loves the theatre but is not allowed to partake in any way because he is a Jew.
That is the bare skeleton on which this fabulous musical is created. There are many more people involved but I can’t mention them all.
There are more than 20 musical numbers including reprises that are powerful, resounding, in-your-face muscular, with some lyrical songs. The dances choreographed by director Donna Feore are relentless, fantastically choreographed and of jaw-dropping quality. The audience went crazy from the start and one way of describing their enthusiasm is to point out that there were two standing ovations during the performance. It may happen in other productions, but I have never seen it before.
The singing and the dancing displayed discipline, coordination, precision and athleticism of the highest order. This is choreography to savour.
Something Rotten is also a hilarious comedy. There were countless off-colour jokes, in fact they were plain dirty jokes. Sexual puns and suggestive and not-too-subtle gestures of a carnal variety galore and a show that wanted to make us laugh and did.
Something Rotten is about the birth of the American musical and it did not hesitate to quote and parody numerous famous examples of the genre. I lost count but references to Cats, The Sound of Music, Fidler on the Roof, Cabaret, Chorus Line and many others added to the humour.
The names of Shakespeare’s contemporaries were mentioned and there were quotations from the bard’s works and hilarious parodies of them. Hamlet or Omelette came in for rough handling when it was thought to have something to do with eggs. There were dance routines involving eggs and omelettes and of course Hamlet’s address to the skull “Alas, poor yolk.” The kaleidoscope of witty lines seemed endless.
The individual actors and the ensembles performed with outstanding ability. Uhre and Firmston come first in line for their stupendous work, but the others are in the same line up. Lillico as the showman and literary crook Shakespeare, Juan Chioran as the stentorian and dirty-minded Puritan and Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane as his beautiful and rebellious daughter Portia. She even gets the trial scene from in The Merchant of Venice, where Portia the lawyer defends the theatrical criminals and despite The Quality of Mercy they are sentenced to beheading. There is another form of punishment, but you must see the musical for yourself to find out.
Starr Domingue plays Bea, another rebellious woman who wants to work in the theatre but is forbidden because of her fixtures. We like her attitude and Domingue’s spunky acting. Steve Ross’s Shylock and Chameroy’s Nostradamus are marvelous actors and singers and one cannot praise their performance enough.
Set and Costume Designer Michael Gianfrancesco’s work was spectacular, but we were almost too busy keeping up with the singing, dancing, dirty jokes and parody of musicals to stop and notice it. But the dance numbers done by eggs and omelettes could hardly go unnoticed. It is a major contributor to the musical.
Donna Feore gets credit for her masterful work as director and choreographer. It looks like an unbelievable achievement, and it is there to be admired and enjoyed.
I am running out of superlatives and can only state that this is a must-see production at the Stratford Festival.
Something Rotten, book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, opened on May 28 and will continue in repertory until October 27, 2024, at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario.

June 7, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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