Reading Time: 4 minutes
Singers doth sing, poets doth write, and plagues doth plague. The societal ill that is theater far exceeds in strength the ill emanating through the miasma, so thespians still find a way to infect the world with their figurative buboes. Despite the constraints put upon by isolation, we still found their medleys infectious and their performances moving. Much like the plague, theater comes in waves, and it seems our wicked intermission has yet come to a close. Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC) has returned to the stage for their first in-person show since quarantine with their production of “Something Rotten!”
“Something Rotten!” follows the exploits of Bottom Brothers Nick (Michael Borzuck) and Nigel (Samuel Espinal Jr.), along with their theater troupe, as they attempt to produce the show of the century and top Nick’s archnemesis, William Shakespeare (Oliver Hollman). Along with a desire to show up his enemy, Nick is motivated to provide a better life for his wife, Bea (Elizabeth Stansberry), and their child on the way. After the many failures of the Bottoms’ previous shows, Lord Clapham (Matthew Monge), a patron of the theater, pulls all his funding from the troupe, leaving Shylock (Sam Farrow), a Jewish merchant, to step in and fund their show. Desperate for their next play to be a smashing success, Nick seeks out the scrappy fortune-teller, Tomatus Nostradamus (Berry Ongan), asking him what Shakespeare’s most famous show will be, only for Nostradamus to pronounce “Hamlet” as “Omelette.” All while Brother Jeremiah (Brandon Phillips), an overzealous priest who has waged war on the blasphemous theater, aims to sabotage their performance, further complicated by his daughter, Portia (Cynthia Tan), who has fallen in love with Nigel. The show culminates in the production of “Omelette! The Musical,” the Bottoms’ very own something rotten.
Nick and Nigel’s lively dynamic, the overbearing, arrogant overachiever versus the reserved, artistic poet, is the driving force of the show. Borzcuk’s enthusiasm contrasted with Espinal’s more restrained delivery embodied their differences and the source of both their collaboration and conflict. Borzcuk, in particular, stood out in his performances of the tracks “God I Hate Shakespeare," which served as a funny introduction to this character, establishing his immense hatred for and jealousy of the Bard, and the clever play on words “Bottoms Gonna Be On Top,” a segment with impressive choreography that let him shine as the star of the show. Nigel's scenes with Portia made for some of the most heartwarming moments of the play, featuring palpable chemistry between the actors that made the audience look forward to their scenes together. The humor in Borczuk and Espinal Jr.’s performances, however, left something to be desired. Borzcuk had the opportunity to add humor to his tense interactions with characters like Shakespeare or Brother Jeremiah, and while Espinal illustrated Nigel’s awkwardness well, the depiction of Nigel’s introverted nature dampened the humor in several scenes.
On the other hand, the supporting cast stole the show. Freshman Brandon Phillips as Brother Jeremiah, a Puritan preacher feuding with Nick, brought incomparable energy to his scenes, never failing to evoke gut-busting laughs with his homoerotic comments and Medieval accent. The hated Bard, portrayed by junior Oliver Hollman, epitomized the braggart that Shakespeare was characterized as while incorporating humor through his condescending, over-the-top delivery, as seen in his well-coordinated tap-dancing battle with Nick. Senior Elizabeth Stansberry delivered both comic relief and strong vocals as Bea Bottom, captivating the audience with her solo performance of “Right Hand Man.” Berry Ongan as Nostradamus was a vocal powerhouse, grabbing the audience’s attention whenever they stepped on stage. From the opening song “Welcome to the Renaissance” to their interaction with the main characters, Ongan produced spirited performances through both acts.
Similarly, the music score of the show was a perfect accompaniment to the cast. The band built on the dynamic movement of the actors’ strong vocal performances, contributing to the drama, suspense, humor, and overall storytelling. The stage art brought the play to life with beautiful paintings of the countryside, a quaint kitchen in Nick’s home, and detailed illustrations of Medieval architecture.
From Bea’s bonnet to Nick’s breeches to Shakespeare’s Renaissance-inspired tunic, the costumes were a successful rendition of medieval fashion, communicating the character’s trademark attributes, like Shylock's ostentatious wealth or Nostradamus's eccentricity. STC has done a wonderful job adapting and producing a musical in such a short time. However, the show is reliant on the audience having some knowledge of theater and Shakespeare. The humor fluctuates between innuendo and niche references, and it's assumed the audience has at least a passable knowledge of The Bard and previous exposure to musicals of the stage and screen, which may alienate casual viewers.
Beyond the humor, the pacing of the show was affected by time constraints, rendering the climax rushed and inconsequential, as it gets resolved within minutes. While there seem to be some mounting tensions between the Bottom brothers throughout the play, the fallout was minimal and there were essentially no repercussions to Nick’s betrayal of the troupe (by plagiarizing one of Shakespeare’s plays) and minimal character development. The evolution of the ensemble cast, especially the romance between Nigel and Portia, seems underdeveloped, and the side storylines lacked conclusive endings.
Aside from the pitfalls in the story itself, some technical elements of the show distracted from the actors’ performances. In certain scenes, there was no spotlight, making the characters look like shadowy figures and only illuminating the set behind them. The audio mishaps, perhaps due to mics not being turned off or switched on at the right times, caused some confusion and distraction among audience members.
Despite its issues in pacing and effects, STC’s return to the stage was a triumph with engaging performances, a beautiful wardrobe, and a script fit for The Bard himself. The production left viewers satiated, as any good omelet should, but with a craving for what’s to come.