PRICE — After premiering on Broadway in 2015, I had the privilege of seeing the 2018 touring production of Something Rotten! at the Eccles Theatre in Salt Lake City. The production starred Adam Pascal as Shakespeare, and as an avid fan of the musical Rent, I was delighted to meet him after the show. That was the cherry on top of an already jam packed afternoon of Broadway enthusiasm. Something Rotten! is essentially a satirical love letter to musical theatre and Shakespeare, making it an especially satisfying treat for musical theatre lovers when it is done well. Unfortunately, Utah State University Eastern’s production, directed by Dr. Corey Ewan, is somewhat lacking. While I believe Ewan had every intention of doing the production justice, perhaps the university would have been better suited to mount a less complex show. 

With a book by John O-Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, and music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten! is a fun and zany musical comedy set during the renaissance with a modern twist. The year is 1595 in London and brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom are desperately trying to make it as successful playwrights. The problem? They are up against the fiercest of competition, the legendary William Shakespeare. After being outshined by Shakespeare numerous times, Nick enlists the help of a Soothsayer, Nostradamus, who claims the future of the theatre is musicals. Nostradamus mistakenly predicts Shakespeare’s next hit to be entitled “Omelette,” leading the brothers to create the hilarious first ever musical that loosely follows the plot of the famous play, Hamlet, but ultimately is just about eggs. 

The genius behind Something Rotten! is the clever and witty writing that packs so much into a two hour show. On top of the plethora of musical theatre and Shakespeare references, the musical is also very smartly filled with a number of pop culture and historical references as well, making it a fun time for anyone who enjoys “Easter eggs” or making connections. The musical often pokes fun at the standard conventions of the time and Shakespeare generally, while highlighting various differences between then and now. The language also features many sexual innuendos and double entendres, and this particular audience seemed to greatly enjoy the phallic humor. 

While the production started promising with high energy and excitement during the fun opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” the momentum could not be maintained. At times I felt like I could see the energy being drained from some of the actor’s faces and by the second act many seemed to be dragging. The weaker ensemble members were seemingly just going through the motions. This made the group dance numbers toward the end more on the sloppy and unenthusiastic side. I also wished for better enunciation and volume from many actors. Some lyrics were dropped throughout due to poor diction, particularly in the fast banter songs. It didn’t help that the mics kept cutting out as well. This was especially apparent in the musical number “Make an Omelette” where much of it was not audible. This naturally made me disengage, as well as caused some jokes to fall flat. 

All of the lead actors gave decent performances, though most struggled vocally with the score. In most cases, however, these actors gave earnest performances in spite of any vocal issues, which I appreciated. Having the actors enthusiastically invested in their roles went a long way to help combat these shortcomings. I enjoyed T’Kiah McArthur’s portrayal of Portia as the Puritan daughter. She struggled with the singing and at times I was not able to hear her at all because she was too quiet and soft while in her upper register, but the way she played into the innocent and cute persona worked to her advantage. She was overall rather charming. I also thought that she had a nice chemistry with Acorn Ludlow, who played Nigel Bottom. Ludlow gave a sincere performance that was one of the strongest of the cast. The duet he has with Portia where they bond over a love for Shakespeare, “I Love the Way,” was sweet and surprisingly one of my favorite numbers of the night.

As Nick Bottom, Graydee Noyse is deservedly well cast in the lead role and gave a strong performance. He was believable in his desire to find success in the theatre, as well as to top Shakespeare. His competitive drive shines through in “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” I thought the chemistry Noyse had with Ludlow was also impressive as they were able to make their dialogue and friendship seem quite natural. I also appreciated Kassidy Childs’s earnest performance in “Right Hand Man” as Bea Bottom, Nick’s wife, and the way the character’s feminism and nontraditional aspects emphasized themes of women’s equality. As William Shakespeare, Sean Ryker Childs, again gives an earnest performance as the rock star version of The Bard. I appreciated his efforts, but unfortunately he didn’t quite have the confidence and vocal ability that the role requires. 

The costumes (Costume Coordinator: Ellie DeMie) featured nice looking Elizabethan outfits of the time, and skillfully paired with the mood of the show to bring in more modern fabrics and designs as the show progressed. As Shakespeare makes more of an appearance unveiling more of a rock star persona, we start to see more leather, sequins and black clothing. I especially loved the design of the black robe with red and gold adornment that Nostradamus wore. The egg costumes were also quite funny. Also notable is Kenny Driggs’ lighting design that consistently complemented the action nicely and provided a largely outdoor atmosphere. I especially liked the use of warm colors to create the look of a realistic sunset.

Although this production of Something Rotten! was not a strong success, there were enough elements of merit to hold it together. One of which is simply the passion and excitement from the students and the audience. I happened to attend on closing night to find out that this is the last show ever to be directed by Dr. Corey Ewan before his upcoming retirement after teaching at the university for 25 years. It was clear that Dr. Ewan touched many student’s lives and it was heartwarming to be at a university with such positive comradery. It made me feel nostalgic for my college theatre days of creation, collaborating and connecting. Attending this production reminded me how special college theatre can be.

Something Rotten! ran February 29 – March 3 & 5-9 at the Geary Events Center at USU Eastern in Price, UT. For more information, visit