November 21st, 2018

Something Rotten!

This musical comedy is set in more-or-less Shakespearian England, and considers the question: what if musical theater as we know it had been invented in the 1600’s?

After the upbeat opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” we meet brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Matthew Michael Janisse and Richard Spitaletta), who run a theatre troupe, struggling in part due to the predominance of Shakespeare (“God, I Hate Shakespeare”). Nick is a competent actor and director, and Nigel a very good poet, but neither one is good at coming up with new play plots.

In desperation, Nick consults the soothsayer, Nostradamus (“Thomas” Nostradamus, nephew of the famous Nostradamus) who tells him that the next big thing in theatre will be “musicals”, an idea Nick has a hard time grasping. (Nick: “That sounds miserable.” Nostradamus: “I think that’s ‘Miser-AH-ble,”—which tells you what a lot of the humor in the show is like.)

After a disastrous attempt to create a historical musical show about the Black Death, and Shakespeare’s attempt to steal Nigel’s work, Nick goes back to Nostradamus to try to divine what Shakespeare’s greatest play will be. The seer inherits his uncle’s inexactitude and comes up with the title “Omelet,” which has something to do with “Danish” and “Ham”—which sends Nick on a wild goose chase to outdo Shakespeare by creating a musical play about breakfast.

I have to agree with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reviewer that the show is a mess, but a funny mess, and that the more you know about musical theater, the funnier it is. We caught verbal or physical references to Les Mis, Annie, The Lion King, Fiddler on the Roof, Cats, The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, On the Town, A Chorus Line, and others we probably missed or I can’t remember. Plus, numerous Shakespearian in-jokes: besides Bottom, for example, characters are named Francis Flute, Peter Quince, Tom Snout, Yorick, Robin, Snug, Falstaff, Shylock, and Portia.

Singing and acting were all quite competent, but not outstanding. It is a good dance show, with a really over the top production number “A Musical” lead by the scene-stealing Nostradamus (Greg Kalafatas).

Something Rotten! is a fun and enjoyable love note to Broadway shows. Although far from deathless, we had a good time.

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Saturday afternoon the 20th, we went to St. Joseph’s Chapel to hear Early Music Now’s program featuring the Estonian vocal group, Heinavanker. They presented a concert of liturgical chant, Renaissance polyphony, early Estonian folk hymns and runic songs, which was very beautiful to listen to. The group has exceptionally beautiful voices and ensemble, which were well served by the Chapel’s acoustics.

Most of the liturgical pieces were in Latin, with several by Johannes Ockeghem, an influential composer of the Franco-Flemish School in the last half of the 15th century. It was interesting to compare the various pieces and get a feeling for his style. I was more interested by the pieces that were either in Estonian, or had Estonian content, such as “Imeline koda” (Wondrous House), a song that honors the Virgin Mary in a setting containing a lot of pre-Christian elements. I also particularly liked “Nuud Kristus surmast tosnud on,” (Jesus Christ is Risen Today), which was a very lively and pleasant celebratory piece.

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