Scotch'n'Soda's 'Something Rotten!': A highly biased review from someone who never saw the show
Last weekend, Scotch'n'Soda put on four fine performances of "Something Rotten!," a musical-comedy about two aspiring playwrights as they go to increasingly ridiculous lengths to outmatch the popularity of their contemporary, William Shakespeare. I performed in the pit band (yes, that was a real live band you heard), a 12-piece ensemble of the most talented and dashingly handsome musicians ever assembled in Carnegie Mellon. Located in the Connan Room (on account of not being able to fit in McConomy), we were connected to the auditorium by a rat's nest of audio wires roughly as thick as the transatlantic fiber optic cable. By some combination of ingenuity and divine luck, the sound crew gave us four shows without any technical hiccups. Nice work, sound crew.
After four grueling days of rehearsal lasting 'til 1 a.m., followed by a two-show Friday and two-show Saturday, I was excited to hear how the thoughtful and intelligent media critics at Pillbox would review our performance. How shocked I was to find that there was no plan to put a review in last week's issue. I would have written this last Sunday, but you'll have to forgive me for being too exhausted to assemble coherent sentences. After resting up, I decided that if nobody else would write the review, it was up to me. Because if The Tartan doesn't write about it, did it even really happen?
The musical follows two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, as they struggle to write a hit play that will launch them out of poverty into stardom. The elder, Nick, harbors deep resentment toward Shakespeare, who resides at an untouchably high level of celebrity ("God I Hate Shakespeare"). He consults Thomas Nostradamus, a soothsayer, from whom he learns that the next big thing in theater will be musicals ("A Musical"). After struggling to figure out what a musical should be about, he asks Nostradamus what Shakespeare's greatest hit will be, who erroneously tells him it will be a play called "Omelette" (Hamlet). The Bottom brothers do their best to interpret Nostradamus' glimpses of the future, and they put together a horrendous motley show consisting of mismatched plot details of famous Broadway hits ("Something Rotten!/Make an Omelette"). Shakespeare exposes their treachery and has them sent to trial, which results in the brothers being banished to the New World ("Welcome to America"). Then they bow ("Bows") and everyone gets to leave ("Exit Music"). The show is a love letter to Broadway, littered with musical motifs and references to famous shows, most of which I wasn't smart enough to pick up on. But I'm sure one of you out there got them all.
You may have noticed the occasional disconnect between the singing and the music — perhaps a missed entrance, or a vamp went a bit too long. Oddly enough, every single one of those errors was actually the fault of the actors, not the pit. Strange.
Jokes aside, the cast did a phenomenal job. Having chatted with one of the actors and taken a piss next to another, I can confidently say that they were all a fine group of talented and charismatic thespians. Our leading man Joshua Malley played Nick Bottom, a flawed but sympathetic protagonist who goes to morally dubious lengths so that his wife, brother, and future son can live a better life. Wallis Lucas, playing Nick's wife Bea, gave us an impressive vocal performance during her number, "Right Hand Man," plus moments of well-timed comic relief sprinkled throughout the show. Steven Tao made us fall in love with Nigel Bottom, the archetypical artsy softboy. Matthew Blankley gave us a Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury–inspired Will Shakespeare, a renaissance rockstar with a fragile ego trapped by his own success ("Hard to be the Bard.") Lance Miller played the gruff-voiced, haughty Puritan preacher Brother Jeremiah, who just can't seem to help but make homoerotic double-entendres (threatening at one point to tie Nick to a post and "give him the rod.") Considering the original role on Broadway was cast as a male, Lillian McDermott's performance of Thomas Nostradamus was especially impressive, hitting several low notes during their performance of "A Musical.'' There was also Portia (Abby Glass), who falls in love with Nigel through their shared interest of poetry; the high-strung and anxious Lord Clapham (Trey DuBose), the theater-obsessed moneylender Shylock (Ashley Offman), plus an ensemble of performers eight-strong.
And of course, the cast was backed by the inimitable and indomitable pit band, led by our fearless Musical Director Liam Mulligan, who not only played the Keyboard 1 book, conducted the show, and did the voiceover during Shakespeare's rock number ("Will Power"), but also drank no less than one gallon of Turner's Unsweetened Iced Tea during our Friday marathon. I would also be remiss not to shout out Etan Cohn, our other Musical Director who was ever the reliable percussionist — he found the downbeat when I could not. Yours truly played the book for Keyboard 2, for which our incomparable Assistant Music Director Chris Renaud spent 10 hours of his valuable time writing the MainStage program (so if you heard a church organ during the show that was probably me). It was a privilege and an honor to work with such a talented group of musicians, and I'm grateful for the experience.
I can't speak to the lighting, choreography, mixing, or any of the other things that defined the in-house experience of the audience. I watched the show through our sound engineer's laptop webcam which was streaming video through PhotoBooth, the quality of which was only good enough for us to tell whether the stage lights were on or not. I'm sure there must have been a visual gag about a sign with a black dog on it, and apparently there were tap dancing eggs at some point, but you'd have to ask somebody who actually saw the show. But I have no doubt the production team did a stand-up job.
All in all, it was a pretty good time. If you missed it, have somebody explain it to you in great detail, and make sure you keep an eye out for Scotch'n'Soda's next performance. Word around town says they're doing "Clue" this December, so you better not miss it.