Pioneer Theatre makes a fun evening out of “Something Rotten!”

Sat Feb 26, 2022 at 9:35 am
By Catherine Reese Newton
Matt Farcher and Daniel Plimpton star as the impresario Bottom brothers in Pioneer Theater Company’s Something Rotten! Photo: PTC

At long last, Pioneer Theatre Company has opened its pandemic-delayed production of the Shakespearean spoof Something Rotten! And with world news going from bad to worse every day, this unabashed romp of a musical feels like a welcome vacation, with a show that offers a surprisingly satisfying marriage of sophomoric comedy and smart wordplay.

The 2015 Broadway hit, co-created by Karey Kirkpatrick with his brother Wayne (music and lyrics) and John O’Farrell (book), follows the misadventures of Elizabethan era brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom as they attempt to wrest a bit of glory from their nemesis, Will Shakespeare.

Egged on by the neighborhood soothsayer, Nick becomes convinced that the brothers’ ticket to fame is a brand-new genre in which—get this—actors burst into song. The troupe will out-Shakespeare Shakespeare by lifting the plot of the Bard’s next big hit. Unfortunately, the soothsayer’s prophecy is slightly scrambled, so instead of Hamlet, we get the breakfast musical Omelette. A barrage of theater references and in-jokes ensues.

The score is a jolly pastiche that simultaneously parodies and celebrates the touchstones of musical theater, from Meredith Willson and Andrew Lloyd Webber to Stephen Sondheim and Jonathan Larson. (As a bonus, there’s a cadence in “Hard to Be the Bard” that’s lifted directly from Queen’s hit “Somebody to Love.”) Set pieces like “A Musical” and “It’s Eggs!” provide a fun test of the audience’s musical theater knowledge, while a couple of songs, such as the peppy opener “Welcome to the Renaissance,” stand well on their own.

Matt Farcher finds nuance in the role of the harried Nick; he’s desperate to pay the bills and seething with resentment of Shakespeare’s success, yet driven by genuine concern for his wife, Bea, and grudging affection for his brother. Farcher may be going for laughs when his character goes into stentorian “actor mode,” but his powerful vocals help lift the show above mere farce.

Daniel Plimpton likewise delivers a nicely shaded performance as the nerdy idealist Nigel. He’s so earnest and sweet that you want him to succeed. Musically and dramatically, he has wonderful chemistry with Farcher and with Lexi Rabadi, who plays the ingenue role to perfection as Portia, a poetry-mad Puritan. Galyana Castillo, as the indomitable Bea, invests her role with warmth, determination and the pipes of a pop diva.

Photo: PTC

One of the keys to this show is that almost none of the characters have the foggiest idea that what they’re saying is the slightest bit amusing. The exception is Matthew Hydzik’s deliciously over-the-top portrayal of Shakespeare. He struts, preens and swaggers like Jim Morrison, Freddie Mercury and Elvis Presley rolled into one, at one point turning the opening line of Richard III into a glorious sing-along.

PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg, as director and choreographer of this show, leans into the broad humor and never passes up an opportunity for a dance break. (The topical touches in “The Black Death” number work especially well.) The 11-piece pit orchestra led by Helen Gregory supports the singers with verve.

Patrick Holt’s fun costume designs include likely the largest collection of codpieces ever assembled on a Utah stage. And George Maxwell’s set design incorporates a clever and touching tribute to the late Fred Adams, the Utah Shakespeare Festival founder who did more than anyone else to popularize the Bard’s work in this state.

Something Rotten! plays through March 12 at the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre; 801-581-6961 or

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