By Ken Stern 

'Something Rotten' at Lincoln is anything but


April 19, 2023

Shakespeare does not have to be difficult. Here is a great way to make his work accessible: weave it with American musical comedy. Combine lavish costumes, a 13-piece band, an energetic, uniformly top-notch cast, great direction and producing and whisk it into the spring Skagit Valley College music department's theatre production and you have "Something Rotten," which is really a must see show at the Lincoln Theatre April 21-23.

Whether you are smart or clever or funny or like singing or dancing, choosing is not an option, for they are all combined in this production. Imagine 1590s London: "Welcome to the Renaissance," "The Black Death," how it must be "Hard to be the Bard" and yes, Shakespeare is "Will Power."

These are all songs, most of them with dancing and all supported by Diane Johnson's conducting and Damond Morris' directing.

If there was rock music back then and somehow Shakespeare attracted attention like Mick Jagger or James Brown, you would have "Something Rotten." Poor Nick Bottom (Shawn Steiner, a strong lead among a strong cast). Against Shakespeare (Rob Neeleman, superb), he is a hack poet. Not even his very talented brother, Nigel (Michael Turner, also good) can make headway with patrons, producers or audiences.

So, "God, I Hate Shakespeare," the brothers sing with their actors troupe (supportive ensemble players). Are they going to starve? No, wife Bea Bottom (Z Morris, energetic) loves her husband, loves her life and won't settle for being a 1590s housewife. She knows she is Nick's "Right Hand Man" and can get a job and does, even if she has to disguise herself as a man. Subtle, right, since male actors played female parts back then.

Despairing, Nick steals from the family's moneybox to pay a soothsayer to find where his successful acting lies. The key question: What will Shakespeare's greatest hit be? Enter Nostradamus (Mike Marlin, singing, dancing, tumbling in a great court jester's costume; five stars to costumer Cally Holden and assistants).

What does the future of theatre hold? "A Musical," and all stops get pulled out. Nostradamus stumbles his way into his vision of the future, foreseeing plays where "an actor is saying his lines, and out of nowhere he just starts singing" and the Company fills the stage and does just that. Yes, it is one over the top number after another, as folks in robes, blouses, doublets and tights join in a precision dance and form a kickline.

Later the confident Nick engages Shakespeare in a tap dance duel during "Bottom's Gonna Be On Top." And, there are dancing eggs, of course.

Alas, Nostradamus was askew. Instead of predicting "Hamlet," he foresees "Omelette" and a Danish pastry instead of a prince. All this is great fun: imagine Hamlet holding up and speaking to a giant egg instead of a skull.

Meanwhile there is love and truth, because they are in the mix when art is made. Nigel turns out to be the genius we credit to Shakespeare and the charismatic Will here is a plagerizer. And a rock star. Neeleman is silky, sultry, the center of attention and a show stopper. Kudos to the lighting design team led by Brooke Hoffstetter.

While Bea loves and stands by Nick, Nigel runs into Portia (Anwyn Thompson, good, too). She is the daughter of a Puritan preacher, but poems light her up and she sneaks out with Nigel to party after a poetry reading.

Brother Jeremiah (Moses Marlin) takes his daughter away, to a tower and Nigel is inspired. Where else would "get thee to a nunnery" have come from? Nigel can't crack the meaning of "Omelette," but his heart and soul lead him to this: "Sure as the day follows into night/Sure as the sky turns to blue/This much I know/This much is true/Above all else, whatever you do/To thine own self be true."

Whether songs or Shakespeare draw you to the theatre, go see "Something Rotten." This show is delicious.

Book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, created by the co-director of "The Book of Mormon: and the producers of "Avenue Q." It opened on Broadway in 2015.

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