‘Something Rotten!’ a treat for theater geeks, from 2nd Star Productions

Talented local performers make this musical journey back to the Renaissance a rollicking good time.

Something Rotten! from 2nd Star Productions, showing at the Bowie Playhouse through June 24, is a true treat for theater geeks; it’s full of uproarious laughs and inside jokes that were just what I needed after a long week of work. Directed by Alanna Kiewe and produced by Michael Mathes and Emily Mudd, this production showcases a range of talented local performers who made the three-hour journey back in time to the Renaissance a rollicking good time. The book for the show is by Kary Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, with music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, and after the musical debuted on Broadway in 2015, it was nominated for 10 Tony awards and was on tour in the U.S. through 2019.

I personally have been wanting to see this show for a long time, so I grabbed the chance to see 2nd Star Productions’ version. I was not disappointed! The musical’s opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” features the ensemble, with Ajaka McLemore in the spotlight as the Minstrel. Her beautiful belting was enjoyable, although it did seem to me that she was slightly uncomfortable in her costume. The Bowie Playhouse theater makes for an intimate experience, and its stage being on the smaller side, along with the effective set design by Michael Vincent, allows one to feel like the ensemble is made up of many more people than are actually present.

Ajaika McLemore and the company of ‘Something Rotten!’ Photo by Nate Jackson Photography.

Once we’ve been welcomed to the Renaissance, the raunchy tone is set and the plot conflict introduced with “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” sung by Nathan Bowen as Nick Bottom. Nick is a struggling writer, or should I say, bard, who is fed up by the attention (not to mention money) his contemporary Will Shakespeare is getting. Bowen’s strong acting and singing are perfect for the role of the affable if slightly nebbish Nick. We are also introduced to Shylock (played by a hilarious Ellery Rhodes), a Jewish moneylender who only wants to be Bottom’s patron, despite local laws saying that Jewish people cannot do so.

Another standout performer in the show is Neva Keuroglian Sullivan as Bea, Nick’s spunky and supportive wife, whom we meet in “Right Hand Man.” I wanted to see more of her as soon as this number was over. I noted, here and throughout the performance, that occasionally the lyrics and words were difficult to hear over the glorious live orchestra.

The talent simply continues to pour out of this production, with Ryan Power absolutely nailing the Nostradamus role. As Nick becomes desperate to write a hit show, he seeks out Nostradamus’ nephew to help him see into the future and determine what the future of theater will be. Power is so entertaining to watch; his physicality and facial expressions combined with a clear and strong voice made “It’s a Musical” one of the best numbers in the production. Although laced throughout the entire show, it’s here that we get an astonishing amount of references to the musical theater world with a medley of so many shows (including Annie, Avenue Q, Newsies, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent, and Seussical the Musical just to name a few).

Emily L. Sergo, Nathan Bowen, Bryan Hargraves, Keith Flores, Davis Wootten-Klebanoff, Kyle Eshom, Brian Binney, and Alex Campbell in ‘Something Rotten!’ Photo by Nate Jackson Photography.

In “Black Death,” we catch a glimpse of Bottom and his brother Nigel Bottom’s first foray into writing a musical, and the result is so purposely ridiculous that the entire audience was rolling with laughter on Friday night. The troupe (Brian Binney, Alex Campbell, Kieth Flores, Bryan Hargraves, and Davis Wootton-Klebanoff) along with Kyle Eshom’s Nigel are so endearing and fun to watch throughout this number and the entire show.

A secondary plot line in Something Rotten! is the star-crossed love story of Nigel Bottom and Portia, the daughter of magistrate and resident scary Puritan Brother Jeremiah. Aaron Vonderharr is spot on and yet somehow still lovable as this close-minded religious zealot. His daughter Portia, played sweetly by the effusive Marela Kay Minosa, is daddy’s little Puritan girl on the outside, but an avid poetry fan and passionate woman on the inside. She and Nigel fall in love as they sing the ballad “I Love the Way.”

It’s nearly the end of Act I when we finally meet the one and only William Shakespeare in “Will Power” as Portia and Nigel sneak off to a poetry reading (staged like a modern rock concert) in the park. Natolya Barber does such a convincing job playing Shakespeare as an obnoxious, overconfident man full of bravado and over-the-top swagger. She’s a college senior, and I’m eager to see where her career goes as she is clearly a talent to watch. This number has some of the best choreography and dancing of the show, thanks to the Bard Girls (Kristi Bennett, Rowan Campbell, I’ola Hall, Stephanie Ichniowski, Leigh K. Rawls, and Meridian Toalepai) and choreography by Kelsey Meiklejohn Bowen and Summer Moore. There’s also a tap battle in the final number of Act 1 (“Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top”), which was a joy to watch, although I noted some of the taps could have been crisper.

Natolya Barber and the company of ‘Something Rotten!’ Photo by Nate Jackson Photography.

After intermission, Act 2 sees the conflict intensify as Will Shakespeare, disguised as “Toby Belch,” joins the cast of the newly reworked Bottom brothers’ musical, “Omelette” (a misstep caused by Nostradamus misunderstanding Hamlet in his vision). In my opinion, the plot is not intended to be the focus of this show, and so while it may be slightly hard to follow, it pays off for the humor and entertainment value. The second act is filled with reprises. Two songs that are not reprises stand out in this act: “It’s Hard to Be the Bard,” where Shakespeare and the Bard Girls strike again, and “We See the Light,” a great ensemble number with a gospel feel and a red glitter vest moment. I won’t spoil it by explaining whose moment it is.

I did also enjoy “Make an Omelette,” a number in the show-within-the show, for both the production value (dancing eggs!) and the sheer fact that the cast is clearly having so much fun on stage that it’s contagious!

I highly recommend this production to any self-professed theater geek. You’ll want to tap-dance out of the theater and belt out musical numbers the whole ride home, which is, I’m not ashamed to admit, exactly what I did.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Something Rotten! plays through June 24, 2023, presented by 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie, MD. For tickets ($25, general admission; $22 seniors active military, and students; $15, children under 12) buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

The program for Something Rotten! is online here.

Reviewer’s note: I would not recommend this show for children under 12 due to the content and adult humor.

COVID Safety: Audience members must remain masked while in the Playhouse (including during the performance). See 2nd Star Productions’ current COVID-19 policies here.

Something Rotten!
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell
Music & Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick



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