​‘Something Rotten!’ delights audience but lacks strong female characters

The playful Broadway musical set in Renaissance-era London centered on the plight of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom and their struggle to become as famous and renowned as William Shakespeare.

“Something Rotten!” stunned and delighted a packed crowd at the Overture Center on Oct. 9. The musical comedy kept audience members smiling by not taking itself too seriously. The one thing the show was lacking? Lead women.

The playful Broadway musical set in Renaissance-era London centered on the plight of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom and their struggle to become as famous and renowned as William Shakespeare. Although aligned by their common goal, the brothers have very different motives and values, making a not-so-harmonious business partnership.

Nick, played by Matthew Janisse, is the savvy brother who wants fame and fortune in order to provide for his growing family. His unsentimental feelings about art and theater are revealed in Janisse’s hilarious performance of “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”

Nigel, played by Richard Spitaletta, on the other hand, is a Shakespeare fanatic and the poet of the family. Where Nick provides the brains of their operation, Nigel provides the heart. Spitaletta fit the role perfectly, portraying Nigel as a completely dorky and lovable romantic.

Wanting nothing more than to steal Shakespeare’s spotlight, Nick goes to visit a soothsayer to find out what Shakespeare’s most famous work will be. He encounters Nostradamus — not the famous philosopher Nostradamus, but his nephew — who successfully persuades Nick that Shakespeare’s biggest hit will be a musical called “Omelette.”

Greg Kalafatas delivered the role of Nostradamus flawlessly, especially when it came to the crowd-favorite number of the show, “A Musical.” The song was extremely smart, funny and high-energy from beginning to end. As Nostradamus attempted to explain the concept of a musical to Nick, there were more references to modern day musicals than I could catch. The lively number kick-started the first act and revealed the talents of Kalafatas and the impressive ensemble.

The first act showcased Janisse, Kalafatas and Emily Kristen Morris as Nick’s wife Bea. Morris’ powerful belts and cleverly delivered lines undoubtedly blew the crowd away during “Right Hand Man.” However, he character of Bea herself was slightly problematic. Her point of view was so blatantly capital-F feminist that it felt like the writers thought it was excusable to only have two female characters if one of them was really progressive.

The stars of the second act were Matthew Baker as Shakespeare and Spitaletta. Baker embodied various personas in the unforgettable “Hard To Be The Bard,” delivering a mix between Jack Sparrow and Freddie Mercury. Subsequently, Spitalleta made audience members swoon with his adorable innocence and gorgeous tenor voice in “We See the Light.”

Nigel’s love interest, Portia, was played by Jennifer Elizabeth Smith. Her singing and acting were well done, so it’s unfortunate that her role was ultimately forgettable due to the character’s lack of personality and substance.

Portia’s father, Brother Jeremiah, was much more memorable. Played by Mark Saunders, the sexually-frustrated magistrate had more than a couple show-stopping lines that sent the audience into complete hysterics.

The cast of “Something Rotten!” was somewhat diverse, but it was saddening to see three white males taking the final three bows of the show. Morris and Smith were the only two female leads in the heavily male-dominated cast, with Smith’s character being little more than a love interest and Morris’s character being only slightly better as the hyperbolic feminist woman stereotype.

“Something Rotten!” was delightfully self-aware about its often over-the-top genre, yet somehow the writers didn’t recognize the faults in their portrayal of women. Nonetheless, the show was funny and entertaining, and the night ended with — as the number “A Musical” suggested — “ooh’s, ahh’s, big applause and a standing ovation from the audience.

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