Something Rotten! is so tasty!

Publicity photo for Something Rotten!

Kamyar Pazandeh and Jyla Robinson (Photo by Emily Cooper)

Much to my surprise, Something Rotten! is very entertaining.

I went in wary. I’d never heard of the show and all I knew about the plot was that somebody in Elizabethan England invents musical theatre. Okay, I thought, we’ll see …

But then I got there, and I fell into a kind of quicksand of hilarity. There was no getting out.

Here’s a more complete set-up: yes, we’re in Elizabethan England and a struggling playwright named Nick Bottom has to come up with some fresh ideas or his patron will cut him off. Unlike William Shakespeare, who’s getting all the attention, Nick is not a fountain of literary genius, so he consults a soothsayer, a distant relative of Nostradamus. This lesser-known Nostradamus tips Nick off that musicals will be big in the future and, when Nick is looking for a plot for his musical and asks Nostradamus what the Bard’s biggest hit will be, the soothsayer replies “Omelette” — just missing Hamlet by that much.

And so it goes. Nick and his company begin creating a show that starts with a focus on breakfast. (According to Nostradamus, Omelette also features a Danish.) Before the evening is over, Something Rotten! has made cockeyed references to every musical you’ve ever heard of — and they all get shoehorned into Nick’s script. Personal confession: so far, writing this review, I’ve had to stop typing three times so that I could laugh my stupid head off remembering how Nick and his company decide to deal with the Nazis from The Sound of Music.

A huge part of the charm of Something Rotten! comes from its unstoppable desire to entertain: you’ve got to love an Elizabethan kick line.

Director Rachel Peake and her company deliver a slickly effervescent production in which the performances are remarkably consistent, even though only two members of the cast are Equity pros.

Kamyar Pazandeh, who leads the company as Nick, is one of them. Pazandeh is one of the most gifted musical theatre performers to come out of Vancouver and we should see more of him. His voice is almost operatic in its clarity and, here, he gives us a cleverly understated take on the comedy of Nick’s boneheadedness.

I was also blown away by Daniel Curalli, a non-Equity performer, who is phenomenal as Shakespeare, the villain of the piece. This Shakespeare is written as a narcissistic rock star and Curalli makes a five-course meal out of that, tossing his hair like he’s in a shampoo commercial, posing in a perpetually sexy S-curve, and greeting his fans with false modesty. The guy can also sing and dance.

Vincente Sandoval plays Nick’s younger — and more talented — little brother Nigel, who’s a poet. Sandoval makes some big choices that should not work — but do. To reflect Nigel’s low status, Sandoval gets into a repetitive vocal rhythm that features a lot of upspeak (the pattern in which everything sounds like a question). This could have been boring, even annoying, but, somehow — aided, I’m sure, by the underlying sincerity of his performance — Sandoval makes it consistently funny.

Nigel has a romance with Portia, a Puritan girl from down the street. In this production, Cassandra Consiglio, the company’s other pro, plays Portia with infectious energy and tight comic timing.

And Jyla Robinson is a knockout as Nostradamus. Much like Curalli as Shakespeare, she is shameless in her desire to entertain and expert at doing so. Just wait till you see her fits of clairvoyance.

It doesn’t stop there. There’s not a weak link in the cast, and I’m including the ensemble. There are a number of times when ensemble members have break-out quartets and they nail every one of them. There’s a young guy in the cast named David Longas who, for me, embodies the spirit of the troupe. He’s never featured but he is always a delight to watch because he is, or at least seems to be, having such a terrifically good time.

There are a couple of little caveats, of course. The basic set supplied by Shizuka Kai is a kind of … basic: a flatly painted Elizabethan square. But Kai’s design delivers some fun surprises, including the seedy street in which the crumbling storefronts are accented by bright neon signs and ads for poison and harlots. The music is largely forgettable, but it’s buoyantly energetic and it comes in the service of snappy lyrics. It’s also extremely well played by the band under Brent Hughes’s direction.

Like the rest of the show, Nicol Spinola’s choreography is full of joyous, slickly delivered anachronistic quirks.

Stephanie Kong’s costumes hit mach-speed wittiness in the Omelette showstopper.

Walking towards Malkin Bowl last night, I did not anticipate that I’d be writing a rave today. I’m happy to be doing so. I encourage you to chow down on Something Rotten!

SOMETHING ROTTEN! Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. Directed by Rachel Peake. A Theatre Under the Stars production. On Thursday, July 7. Running in rep at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park until August 26. Tickets

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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