Something Rotten

Hillbarn Theatre's Riotous Romp

By: - Apr 28, 2024

Imagine if William Shakespeare were alive today.  As the playwright of a canon of 40ish of the world’s most produced plays, he would easily be the richest literary figure ever seen.  Then there would be royalties from works based on the Bard’s plays, like Verdi’s operas “Otello” and “Falstaff” and many musicals/movies like “West Side Story” or “Kiss Me Kate.”

Perhaps because of Shakespeare’s mystique and his mysterious life, he has also become the subject of semi-factual, speculative, and fanciful works such as “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Book of Will.”  One that would put a burr under his saddle if he took it seriously is “Something Rotten.”  Some may argue that it intends to bring The Bard down a notch, but more likely, it’s that a spoof like this works because he’s a big target known by all.

If Shakespeare joined in with the rest of the audience, he would appreciate this piece as a highly literate, screamingly funny, fast-moving, well-produced farce.  In its 83rd year, Hillbarn Theatre provides consistently high-quality community theater, and with this musical it demonstrates once again that a non-equity house can deliver a totally professional-quality production.

In this whimsical narrative, the brothers Bottom write plays but fail to keep pace with the literary darling of the day, Will Shakespeare.  Nick, being the older and more driven (portrayed by a charismatic and talented Brandon Savage), consults with a soothsayer to predict trends in the entertainment industry.  That oracle Nostradomus (played by a wildly frenetic, magnetic Caitlin Beanan) predicts that musicals will be the next big thing.

Ultimately, the Bottoms birth “Omelet,” and you would be surprised how many tongue-in-cheek corollaries to “Hamlet” can come from a musical about eggs, starting with the rotten references.  For those looking for deeper messages, the direction taken exemplifies the eternal clash of whether to write a money-making hit or “To thine own self be true.”

Along the way, the poem authoring younger Bottom, Nigel (an innocent, diffident Andrew Cope) crafts what Nick considers throw away lines like “To be or not to be,” “This is the winter of our discontent,” “A band of brothers,” and more.  Tossing the pages they’re written on, guess who is around to pick up the pieces!

Of course, Shakespearian allusions and colorful characters abound.  Most characters’ names draw from “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but Nick’s wife Bea, presumably represents Beatrice from “Much Ado About Nothing.”  Played by a bouncy and determined Melissa Wolfklain, she represents feminism as she insinuates herself into traditionally male trades, including bear dung removal!  She boldly insists that, this being the 1590s, and having a queen as Head of State, gender equality will certainly come by 1600.”

Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” shows up so there can be a Jewish money lender, stage show producer, and source of schtick.  Meanwhile, Puritan minister Brother Jeremiah tries to gum up the works with religious sanctimony.  The final key character is the Renaissance rock star Shakespeare himself, played flamboyantly by a strutting, writhing, and shifty Julio Chavez.  As you might infer, the lauded playwright and poet is depicted as a conniver and plagiarizer, but it’s all in good humor.  Like all the leads in the cast, Chavez’s comic timing makes every laugh line work.

As a musical, “Something Rotten” brims with songs that enhance the storyline like “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and “A Musical,” having bright melodies, witty lyrics, and unending literary references.  Strong voices ensure that they are well sung, and often, comic undertones give the delivery extra zing.  A fair share of double entendres creep into the book and the lyrics as suggested by the song title “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top.”  While a little raunchiness and potty language surfaces, rarely would an attendee be offended (or maybe they wouldn’t get the drift).

Director Randy O’Hara leads an outstanding creative team that pulls all the right stops.  Special recognition goes to Costume Designer Pam Lampkin, who puts together an abundance of period costumes as well as modern garb to represent characters from the likes of “South Pacific” and “Annie,” whose popular music themes are sampled in this soundtrack. Choreographer Leslie Waggoner produces many appealing dance numbers, effectively utilizing numerous performers who ably strut their stuff, in fun dance idioms, from tap to high kick lines.  A good time is had by all.

“Something Rotten,” with book by John O’Farrell & Karey Kirkpatrick and music and lyrics by Karey & Wayne Kirkpatrick is produced by Hillbarn Theatre and plays on its stage at 1285 East Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City, CA through May 12, 2024.