Oh my cod!

Something Rotten’s Bottom Brothers
unseat Shakespeare

Raising a toast! (Foreground L-R) Maggie Lakis, Josh Grisetti, Rob McClure,
and Autumn Hurlbert.

by Sarah Monroe | photos by Jeremy Daniel

Picture this: England, sixteenth century Renaissance. The year is 1595 and the plight of the dark ages is tucked firmly into the grave of the fallen Roman Empire. The country is alive with scientific and medical advances, appreciation for the arts has exploded, and all the world’s a stage for small, traveling acting troupes making their way through the whole of England. There are no shortages of plays and creativity is abundant in this time, but there is one name that dominates them all, a name that still holds a grip on entertainment to this day and has supplied an endless amount of inspirations for centuries since. That name is William Shakespeare. He is not just a bard, he is the bard, a poet of epic proportions. Everything that he touches turns to gold, Shakespeare is a rockstar among men. So what are other lowly poets to do when they try to move out from under the shadow of a mighty sequoia like that of the Swan of Avon? Anything. Literally Anything.

Something Rotten is a hit Broadway musical, garnering 10 Tony nominations, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and winner of Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical and is making its way to Dayton’s own Schuster Center this March. The play follows the hilarious story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, two wannabes that would be if Shakespeare would just share the warmth of the limelight. Nick is the older of the two brothers, the captain at the helm of his ship. He is the director of an acting troupe and driven to achieve success by any means necessary. Nick Bottom longs to be not only the talk of the town like his beloved nemesis Shakespeare, but to also be able to provide for his steadfast wife, Bea, and give her the country cottage that she longs to raise a family in. His brother Nigel, an extremely unsure man who possesses an immense talent for the written word, grapples with whether or not his genius is worth even a grain of salt compared to that of Shakespeare’s overflowing
salt shaker.

The musical, which premiered on Broadway in April of 2015, was cooked up by the real life brother duo Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick. The brothers were born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and have proven to possess undeniable talent. Karey has an impressive resume under his belt, with multiple screenwriting awards and a history of writing on Disney films such as The Rescuers Down Under, Chicken Run, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Madagascar, just to name a few. Wayne found success as a famed songwriter in Nashville and he has his hand in hit songs written for performers such as Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, and dozens more. Wayne’s massively popular song “Change the World” performed by Eric Clapton, won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2002.

The idea for Something Rotten was thought of all the way back in the mid-1990s by the brothers. Karey has said that it was an idea that came to mind after he wondered “What would it be like to be writing in the shadow of William Shakespeare, after Romeo and Juliet just opened?” It wasn’t until 2010 that the pair realized the true possibility of the story and they decided that it was time to get serious about the show. They reached out to comedy writer John O’Farrell who Karey had previously worked with on Chicken Run for Disney. O’Farrell, who is successful in his own right, started as a stand-up comedian, became head writer on a hit British series called Spitting Image which was a BAFTA Television Award winning adult satirical puppet show, and wrote the third best selling political memoir of 2010 called Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter. O’Farrell wrote the book for Something Rotten, while the Kirkpatrick brothers wrote the music and lyrics.

As an audience member, you are formally introduced to Renaissance England in the opening act performed by a minstrel and townsfolk in the musical number “Welcome to the Renaissance.” Here they highlight the refreshing atmosphere enjoyed by south Londoners and all the advantages they have over their dark age counterparts. These benefits include the “latest appliances” such as leather bellows and pewter cups, and there is a real celebration of culture and art.

The story settles in on the Bottom Brothers rehearsing for their newest play, Richard II, only to be interrupted with the disparaging news that Shakespeare is doing the same play. How will they ever be able to compete? The struggling troupe will not fill the seats as Shakespeare does, and their patronage will stop funding the production if they do not come up with a new play immediately! Nick confesses his loathing for Shakespeare while the rest of the actors, including his brother Nigel, cannot deny their adoration for the Bard’s talent. Feeling somewhat defeated, Nick dismisses the troupe and sends them home, with the hopes that when they reunite the following day, their cleared minds will have conjured up a new play.

The day only gets worse for Nick when his landlord is waiting for him at the door of his house asking for the rent. Nick’s wife, Bea, has only cabbage soup to offer him and Nigel for dinner, which is made from vegetables that were picked up after being thrown at criminals in the stocks. Then to top it all off, Bea begs Nick to let her get a job in support of her husband’s dream, but his pride is too big to let her do so. After reiterating to him that she will always be there to help, Bea confidently trots off with a bow and arrows in order to hunt for meat that she can serve her struggling husband. Nick Bottom has hit rock bottom. He continues to lament on his hatred and clear jealousy for Shakespeare, or Will as he calls him with an upturned nose. Nick sees Shakespeare for who he truly is in Something Rotten’s depiction: a man who loves the benefits of being a star, but does anything he can to get out of doing the work. In a desperate moment, Nick realizes that the only way he can beat the Bard is to look into the future and steal Shakespeare’s most famous play. He quietly takes the money that Bea has diligently put aside for her dream cottage and sneaks away into the night to go see Nostradamus. Not the famous Nostradamus who foretold many a prophecy, but his nephew Thomas. When this seer looks into the future, he conjures up the next craze in theatrics:
the musical.

The downhill slide for Nick Bottom continues from there, as Thomas Nostradamus gets his wires crossed and mistakes Omelette as the name of Shakespeare’s most famous play instead of Hamlet. Nick is so obsessed with besting Shakespeare at his own game that he can’t see a truly awful idea, even when it smacks him in the face like a food fight at an all-you-can-eat egg buffet. Nostradamus goes on to explain the idea of what a musical is to a bewildered Bottom, giving an ovation-worthy performance about how ‘singing to explain your emotions’ works in a hilariously pun-filled song. Nick starts to come around to this crazy idea and by the end of the first act, he is convinced that his “original” play will be the toast of the town.   

This show is full of beautifully vibrant costumes, the women have fun patterns shaped in period dresses and the men have classic styles of the time saturated in deep colors. The Bard’s troupe has form fitting clothes that are dazzling in their metallic shades, with cod pieces that could make you blush, (I’m looking at you Shakespeare.) The lighting has a rich jewel-toned cast highlighting the set which moves seamlessly from one scene to the next. The musical numbers will have you belly laughing from beginning to end with nods to pop culture references all the way from the days of yore to the most current settings. Something Rotten is full of quick-wit humor and wise-cracking jabs at plays and musicals from the likes of Shakespeare himself to the songs of Chicago, Chorus Line, and so many more. Diane Schoeffler-Warren of the Victoria Theatre Association had the opportunity to see Something Rotten last year as it toured through the Cincinnati area and raved about the hilarity and genius of the lyrics, saying that her cheeks hurt because she laughed so much and that “You could listen to the songs five times and still hear something new that you missed before!”

Even if musicals are not your forte, there is fun to be had by everybody in Something Rotten. O’Farrell describes it best by saying “It’s about show business and putting on a show. The show works on many levels, but the main level it works on, I hope, is that it’s just a great fun night out.” So go ahead, have a modern night out on the town by taking a step back to the Renaissance and see if the Bottom brothers come out on top.

Something Rotten happens at the Schuster Center from Mar. 20 to the 25, times vary. Tickets start at $26 and can be purchased on the Victoria’s Theatre website VictoriaTheatre.com.

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Sarah Monroe, a native to the Gem City, is currently writing her first novel. Reach DCP writer Sarah Monroe at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com

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