Nick Bottom has hit, well, bottom. Unable to write a hit play and deep in debt, he discovers he and his wife are about to have a baby. Desperate to achieve success he consults a soothsayer to discover the next great thing in theatre and Shakespeare’s greatest play (so he can get one over on his hated rival). However, Bottom is going to discover that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. This is Something Rotten! and it is playing at Topeka Civic Theatre.
This seems to be my season for serendipitous discoveries. For the second time this year, I discovered a theatre doing a show that caught my fancy while en route to another assignment and managed to squeeze in an extra review. And, for the second time, I found myself having a marvelous time.
Shannon J. Reilly really gets this show. He has a good grip on the show’s disparate elements and blends them together well. Reilly knows when to lean into the absurdity and when to treat the show with heart attack seriousness. He stages the show very simply as he focuses on the storytelling and uses a backdrop and a few simple set pieces (designed by Bryce Korf) to help enhance it. Reilly has also had his actors create some truly delightful characters destined to leave their mark on your memories.
Some of the memorable performances in the supporting cast come from Bruce Smith who brings a childlike excitement to Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who is tickled pink to finally be part of theatre (in the form of his financial support). Jayme Green makes for a fine Minstrel as he frames the show’s two acts for the audience. Jaryl Perkins is outstanding as Brother Jeremiah whose overenunciating prudishness seems to barely mask his own sexual appetites.
Bethany Ayers nearly steals the show with her rendition of Portia, the daughter of Brother Jeremiah with a love for poetry. Ayers’ Portia is a combination of Melissa Rauch and Carol Kane and she has comedic timing that can’t be taught. Whether she’s getting soused at a party or waiting the precise number of beats for a humorous farewell, Ayers had the crowd laughing heartily at her wit and antics. She also has a beautiful singing voice with “We See the Light” and “I Love the Way” being particular standouts.
Brett Broadbent makes his Nigel Bottom a bashful milquetoast at the top of the show, but his performance really begins to soar in Act II when the bashfulness gives way to his gentleness. Broadbent just shines in the show’s quieter and sweeter moments and he has a wonderful tenor and falsetto. His solo performance in to “To Thine Own Self Be True” is a bit of musical mastery.
Adam Groves is a cocky prick as William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was a rock star of his era and this show takes that idiom literally as Shakespeare behaves and is adored as a rock star. Groves comes off as a hybrid of David Bowie and Mick Jagger as he gyrates and heats up the audience with his poetry. Groves’ Shakespeare isn’t afraid to take a few shortcuts to success as he enjoys the fruits of fame more than the work of fame. Groves also has a blistering rock tenor which he uses well in “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard”.
Daniel Kooser gives a superlative performance as Nick Bottom. Kooser understands Bottom’s multifaceted nature and is able to project his decency, his frustrations, his fears, and his regrets. His delivery is extremely extemporaneous and he has a gift for nimble wordplay. Kooser also easily transitions from one emotional beat to another. His hallmark moment is “Bottom’s Going to Be on Top” where he not only croons a fine tune, but engages in an epic tap and verbal joust with Shakespeare.
I enjoyed the period correct costumes of Chelle Decker which were replete with jerkins, tights, cod pieces, and billowing dresses. Marilyn Foree and her orchestra hit all the right notes (pun intended) of the score and were epic and intimate as the need arose. Kristin Ross has some fairly effective choreography with the tap battle in “Bottom’s Going to Be on Top” and the sweeping “A Musical” and “We See the Light” being the top moments. Lauren McCauley-Jones has some nice lighting moments with the rock concert feel of “Will Power” being my favorite.
Act I seemed to suffer from a bit of the Thursday doldrums and needed a bit more energy at some points. That being said, they found their full groove in Act II and came out swinging. Some of the dancing also needed to be a bit cleaner.
Something Rotten! is one of the hottest musicals making the rounds on the regional/community theatre circuit. It has great songs and a story that’s meta (the show is aware that it’s a musical), but also funny, sweet, and a little bit dramatic. Add a director and cast that understands this and you have the recipe for an amusing night of theatre like the one waiting for you in Topeka Civic Theatre’s production.
Something Rotten! runs at Topeka Civic Theatre through April 1. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7pm, Fri-Sat at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $25 ($46.50 for dinner option on Fri-Sat and $40.50 for Sunday brunch) and can be purchased at www.topekacivictheatre.com. Topeka Civic Theatre is located at 3028 SW 8th Ave in Topeka, KS.