Huzzah! ‘Something Rotten’s’ afoot at The J

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Live ‘Something Rotten!’ explodes with wit, charm, laughter

Photo courtesy of The J

Get ready for live theatre to restore the excitement, charm, and energy that COVID snatched from our lives. Enjoy The Jewish Community Center’s newest production, “Something Rotten” that’s guaranteed to have audiences laughing, tapping toes, and nodding or snickering with every rif or mention of something from past Broadway smashes.

As told to fans of “Kiss Me, Kate,” it’s time to “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” because “Something Rotten” tells the story of the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel who almost steal Shakespeare’s most compelling play, “Hamlet.” With the help of French visionary Nostradamus, Nick Bottom pays a heavy price to learn the name and plot of The Bard’s most famous play. By stealing the play, Bottom hopes to unseat Shakespeare and snatch his most famous work forever–but before it’s even been written.

“Something Rotten” provides the best vehicle to resurrect Kansas City theatres from the long COVID nap. The show like Sleeping Beauty awakens theatre from a long sleep. “Something Rotten” brings audiences back to life with laughter, song and dance instead of Prince Charming’s kiss.

Even if you watched the streaming version of “Something Rotten!,” ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare, start quoting him now” because you are gonna need that; and knowledge of every great Broadway show–because they are all alluded to throughout this delightful romp.

Photo courtesy of The J

Tim Bair, producer of Shawnee Mission’s Theatre in the Park directed “Something Rotten” last year as a streaming show, but because of the popularity beings the show back live for The White Theatre’s re-birth of live theatre at The J. With predominately the same cast, other than the minstrel and Shakespeare, the previous version resurfaces with excitement and power.

As this show opened, the actors projected fun, laughter, and vigor from the first notes through the curtain calls. Being aware of their characters, they all looked and felt comfortable in their roles–and it shows. Anything that might require a slight change has been sharpened and performances gleam.

Photo courtesy of The J

To add to that, all of the technical aspects combine for rock-solid performances. The lights, sound, props, scenic design, costumes, staging, musical direction and others excel.

From a dark stage, a spotlight focuses on Terrace Wyatt, in  a purple minstrel costume, as he opens the show with his strong vocal prowess and welcomes his audience to the Renaissance.  As he sings and gathers the ensemble on stage, the lights open on the actors, and the sumptuous set by Kelly Harrod and colorful costumes by Arwen White.

As the first number ends, viewers are treated to the technical aspects of the show by such talents as Jon Robertson, sound; choreography by Liz Ernst; lighting design by Justin Dudzik; properties design by Jeremy Smith; among others who created the on stage magic.

Photo courtesy of The J

With direction by Tim Bair and musical direction by Marsha Canady, viewers know the feast awaits. Those familiar with all the aforementioned names, know a quality, crowd-pleasing production awaits. No one exits the show disappointed.

“Something Rotten!” calls on the comedic and vocal talents of its cast. For that, Tim Bair, director; and Marsha Canady, musical director; assembled smartly, talented actors for this show. The three main leads, Tom Nelson, Weston Thomas, and Austin Stang present superb characters to this comedy romp. Their resumes include local productions, several with Theatre in the Park. “Something Rotten!” allows them to flaunt their strong singing voices, their comedic timing, their tapping skills, and their understanding of what makes their characters memorable. This trio delivers a dynamic caravan of talent.

The most stage time in “Something Rotten” belongs to Tom Nelson as Nick Bottom. Nelson, building a nice Kansas City resume fills the character with great facial expressions, strong comedic delivery, great timing, and fun tap sequences. His vocals are equally strong. He makes you listen when he sings. His song with Matt Fowler in Act I, “It’s a Musical” is hilarious. Nelson’s tap sequence with Shakespeare is lots of fun.

Photo courtesy of The J

Speaking of Shakespeare, Austin Stang takes over the role from Fisher Stewart who did the streamed version last year. Absolutely nothing is lost in the change. Stang, who teaches tap, stepped into the role that requires expert tapping and solid vocals. Stang sings and taps with the best. His comedic presentation of The Bard brings smiles and laughter.

Weston Thomas plays Nick’s brother Nigel. Bitten by the love bug at first sight of Portia, his poetry and verse impressed both Portia and Shakespeare. As for his brother Nick, he fails to see the full spectrum of his writing genius. Portia does as evidenced in one hilarious scene between them.

“Something Rotten” definitely features male characters, but to balance the mix, Krista Eyler and Emily Vargo provide the perfect support for the Bottom brothers. Eyler plays Bea, Nick Bottom’s wife who goes to work to help him. Vargo portrays Portia, Nick Bottom’s love interest.

Krista Eyler as Bea perfectly matches Nelson as his adoring wife who wants to help the struggling playwright–even at a time when women were forbidden from working. Her timing, delivery, and vocal dynamics all fit the comedy and help create a strong character.

Eyler earns a quick title in her first job and later saves the day acting as an attorney. Vargo shows the radical split between the new-age thinking and her Puritanical, tyrant of a father. Her reaction to Nick Bottom’s poetry reminds of a famous scene from When Harry Met Sally and the line: I’ll have what she’s having.” Be prepared to laugh.

Matt Fowler, as Nostradamus, produced outlandishly funny prognostications. As the soothsayer and clairvoyant, his future-vision provide a blurry picture of future reality. His misunderstood predictions push the absurdity of the piece. Listen closely to his forecasts. In the 1500’s the character predicts a show about singing and dancing cats and makes mention of nuns and Nazis–but he has no idea what those are or if they are good or bad. Fowler will be among your favorite characters.

After a recent turn as Daddy Warbucks in the J’s production of “Annie,” Ron Meyer, as Brother Jeremiah a Puritan, could not be better cast. Meyer’s stern Puritanical beliefs help explain people had to flee to America. His misunderstanding of sexual desires could not be more funny than his delivery and facial expression. Meyer is outstanding, along with the rest.

As the producer of Nick Bottom’s yet-to-be-written show, Shylock, Keith Wiedenkeller, pops in and out of the action throughout. His character pushes the show’s development with his agreement with Bottom to produce a money-making show. Wiedenkeller’s part, though small, creates the drive for Bottom to write a show to be produced by Wiedenkeller.

Another member new to the cast is Terrance Wyatt, who opens and sings the set-up, gathering number to foretell the antics to come. His voice belts out “Welcome to the Renaissance” and then portrays other small characters throughout the show. He’s great.

One member of the ensemble that stands out is Alex Gumminger, who is dressed in a skirt. He’s funny and a fantastic tapper.

Overall, “Something Rotten!” provides somethings we have all missed–theatre, musical comedy, belly laughs, absurd story line, and characters not soon forgotten. “Something Rotten!” invites the audience to laugh at Shakespeare, laugh at the nods throughout the show of Broadway blockbusters, and escape to a world of fun and games for two hours.

Do not miss “Something Rotten!.” The show is fresh, uncomplicated, frilly, fun, and will remind you of the enjoyment silliness can provide. The script is smart. The characters are funny and unique. The elements of comedy lift the show to stellar proportions.

PRODUCTION STAFF: Directed by Tim Bair; Music Direction by Marsha Canaday; Choreography by Liz Ernst; Scenic Design by Kelli Harrod; Master Carpenter – Tanner Kelley; Lighting Design by Justin Dudzik; Assistant Lighting Design – Kelsi Richardson; Lighting Programmer – Emma Davis; Followspot Operators – Chris Greenfield, Antoine Sanders: Costume Design by Arwen White; Properties Design by Jeremy Smith; Sound Design by Jon Robertson; Associate Sound Design/Production Sound Engineer – Greg McGuire; Stage Manager – Megan Segars; Safety Officer – Betsy Wendorff; Assistant Stage Managers – Kelsey Gallagher, Betsy Wendorff; Wardrobe Manager – Erin Ray; Wardrobe Dresser – Sarah Bezek, Patricia Berning; Audio Assistant – Hannah Zimmermann; Electricians – Chris Greenfield, Maddie Lugenbeel Wright, Jayson Chandley, Kelsey Gallagher; Audio Mixer – Sam Michaels; Audio Assistant – Emily Coffin; Stage Crew – Tanner Kelley.

The cast is: Minstrel/Lord Clapham/Judge – Terrace Wyatt; Nick Bottom – Tom Nelson; Nigel Bottom – Weston Thomas; Shakespeare – Austin Stang; Nostradamus – Matt Fowler; Bea – Krista Eyler; Portia – Emily Vargo, Ashton Botts; Brother Jeremiah – Ron Meyer; Shylock – Keith Wiedenkeller.

The ensemble is a combination of new and familiar faces, with Lora Anderson, Cally Beckman, Ashton Botts, Guy Gardner, Alex Gumminger, Meredith Hollan, Jack Jones, Cody Kreutzer, Ashlie McGuire, Ceslie Parker-Waller, Lauren Payne, Rob Reeder, Moriah Roberts, Natalie Rothfusz, and Landan Stocker.

THE WHITE THEATRE: Producer – Scott Slabotsky, Director of Arts + Culture/Managing Director – Keith Wiedenkeller, Technical Director – Justin Dudzik, Production Stage Manager – Megan Segars, Master Carpenter/Shop Foreman – Tanner Kelly, Box Office Manager – Liz Smith, Public Relations/Marketing – Kathleen Cuddy / Kandice Gerdes, House Manager – Paul Adkins, Director of Photography/Video Editor – Ryan Bruce

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