Review: ‘Something Rotten!’ musical is anything but

“Something Rotten!” it isn’t. And under the talented direction of Kevin Wiczer, it’s a fresh and glorious musical-comedy romp.

Presented by Theatre Nebula, there is a joyous, robust eight-piece pit orchestra and an ensemble cast of 18 triple-threat actors dancing, prancing and enthusiastically singing their hearts out in an homage to “the musical” and the Bard – the two greatest achievements of the theater world. With book by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, and music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, Theatre Nebula’s production is a pure delight and an extremely appealing show. And it’s witty, irreverent, clever and resplendent with puns, sight gags and bad jokes.

Set in South London 1595, “Something Rotten!” tells the tale of the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, struggling both financially and artistically in the world of theater. Who is their major rival and competitor? Why, William Shakespeare, of course, and he’s not above ripping off ideas from younger brother Nigel. Nick is plagued by his envy of Shakespeare, and his own financial state. His wealthy patron Lady Clapham has put the kibosh on funding until he comes up with a new and original idea; he can’t make the rent, he can’t afford meals beyond boiled cabbage, and his wife recently revealed she’s pregnant.

Well, it’s too bad the Bottom brothers didn’t have the superior dream team of director Wiczer, choreographer Kristine Burdi, musical director Bryan McCaffrey and producer/set designer J. Spencer Greene. They would have landed the Bottoms in the number one theater spot Nick laments not being in. Take that, Master Shakespeare!

David Pfenninger plays Nick Bottom (no, not that one from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), the somewhat misguided hero. Pfenninger is a wonder; he radiates confidence and bravado throughout, and particularly in the song “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and in a tap-dancing duet duel with Shakespeare about their accomplishments. He’s also quite the funny man in his presentation of the Bottoms’ musicals, “The Black Death” (you can envision how well that one goes over) and “Omelette” – don’t ask, but you’ll learn how to make one while tapping. Pfenninger is just magnificent.

Equally well cast as Nigel, Nick’s younger co-writing brother, is Joe Lewis, quite believably the sweet, awkward, somewhat naive poet his character is meant to be. His act two theme song, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” grows and swells touchingly with his vocals. Undeniably, both Lewis and Pfenninger are charismatic performers.

Rachel Carreras is Bea, Nick’s loving and supportive wife, and boy, can that girl sing – she’s a Broadway belter. She also has a comforting, expressive face. Mary Margaret McCormack is Portia, the quirky young fan of Shakespeare and sonnets, who falls in love with Nigel; after all, who can resist “If love is a sickness, find me no cure”? Both Carreras and McCormack are strong, vibrant actresses and as equally charismatic as their male counterparts.

Denise Tamburrino is soothsayer Janice Nostradamus; she is the comedic show-stealer and instigator of the showstopping “A Musical.” Now really – who puts the 11th hour song in the first act? And just see how many Broadway musicals you can identify as she alludes to them throughout her loony scenes.

Cale Singleton plays Shakespeare as the egotistical, self-aware genius that the Renaissance crowd adores. (“See what I did there? Bedazzled. I invented the word.”)

He is an adept singer in the style of a mega rock star, evidenced in “Hard to Be the Bard.” Let’s also say Singleton wears his costume well.

The supporting ensemble plays multiple parts, and is blessed with phenomenal dancers (shades of the Rockettes and “42nd Street” tappers) and mesmerizing singers led by the very powerful vocals of Mar’Quon Thomas as the Minstrel.

Of course, there’s a villain: Brother Jeremiah, the Puritan magistrate and father of Portia, who hates theater, is hiding a secret, and is played stoically by Mike Weaver. There also are some breathtaking, recurring gymnastic moves thrown in by Dane Strange’s Robin, who also knows how to slap a fan. Lighting by Steve Nickerson and Renaissance costuming by Victoria Jablonski are visual treats.

The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission.

“Something Rotten!” is Theatre Nebula’s 20th anniversary opener and the regional non-Equity premiere. As the troupe’s founder and producer Greene explains, the show was slated for a year ago, but the pandemic stopped them in rehearsal. Thank heavens the opportunity arose again to present this highly entertaining musical. To go or not to go? That shouldn’t even be the question!

• Regina Belt-Daniels has seen a lot of rotten theater shows, and was so happy this one wasn’t. She has been involved with the theater since the first grade, and has even been in several Shakespeare productions. She serves on the RCLPC Theater Board and It’s Showtime’s Advisory Board.


WHAT: “Something Rotten!” by Theatre Nebula

WHERE: Cutting Hall Performing Arts Center, 150 E. Wood St., Palatine

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (except Oct. 16), and 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 24

COST: $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for students

INFORMATION: 847-202-5222, www.facebook.com/theatrenebula