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Something Rotten” another success for Park Playhouse

With a charming, funny and energetic production of ‘Something Rotten,” Park Playhouse continues to do what it does well. That is to produce outdoor theater with light-hearted musicals that are just off-the-beaten track.

In the case of “Something Rotten,” which runs through July 22, they entertain audiences with jokes, puns, clever songs and most of all thrilling choreographed dance numbers. Add some period costumes, circa 1595, and a set that makes stage changes fast – “Something Rotten” becomes a should see event.

Add to all this, except for some premium seating, the show is free to the public.

“Something Rotten” is a play that shows its love for musical theater by satirizing the genre. Nick Bottom and his brother Nigel are failing in their attempt to compete with Shakespeare. Desperate for an idea, Nick makes a visit to a Soothsayer who sees that in the future musicals are the most popular form of theater. His vision is blurred though. He sees a peculiar mix of subjects ranging from fiddlers on a roof to cats.

The entire range of contemporary musical titles are offered in the phenomenal production number “A Musical.” It is not only a joyful moment - it jump-starts the show which has been dependent on puns to offer the exposition. Once unleashed, the creators just have fun with the complications involved in trying to please an audience.

Nick does have a significant problem. The Soothsayer confuses Shakespeare’s most important play, sending Nick to write a music about eggs. If this sounds silly – you’re right. But try not to laugh during another great production number, “Make an Omelette.”

The theater references, which everyone will get, is what adds humor to the play. What gives the play heart is the relationship between the brothers. Nick, played with charm and drive by Vincent DiPeri, desperately wants success no matter what he must do. Nigel, though younger is more mature and realizes creating art is more important than the public acceptance of that art. His philosophy is “To Thine Own Self be True.”

Played with innocent humor and wisdom by Daniel Jameson, he becomes the conscience of the play. This quality is well served in his frowned upon romance with the Puritan, Portia, who is equally charming. Played by Anna Sprau, she is a welcome new face at the Playhouse.

Other strong performances are offered by Marc Christopher, as Nostradamus, who gathers laughs in one of his typical bigger than life performances. In what could be a throwaway role, Molly Rose McGrath brings energy and style to the role of Bea, Nick’s wife. Indeed, you are uncertain about the show during its first couple of scenes – when McGrath overcomes first night microphone failure and belts out “Right Hand Man” - you realize it will be a fun night.

The character of Shakespeare is shown as an egotistical rock star who steals other people’s ideas for his own plays. In the production he’s played by Steve Raymond who is a terrific musical theater talent. He has poise, a good singing voice and is an excellent dancer. Indeed, his duo tap dance number “To Thine Own Self,” performed with DiPeri is another show-stopper.

Raymond is expert in emphasizing the brashness of the character, but only hints about the character’s charisma. Hopefully, as the run continues he will add more charm to the character, so we might both love and be annoyed by him.

Sadly, I doubt that time will help Brandon Jones’ interpretation of Brother Jeremiah. Whenever the usually reliable Jones enters, the show stops as his caricature of the rigid Puritan is essentially a solemn portrayal of a repressed individual. His moments always end in a broadly delivered double-entendre which demonstrates the difference between low humor and a cheap laugh.

In an extremely “accept -the-premise” piece, director Michael LoPorto offers seamless direction. What makes the play work is even in a silly farce the characters believe in the desperation of their behavior. Because of this, the audience laughs at the contrived complexities of the situation with, instead of at, the characters. Well, sometimes that too.

The skill needed to blend a myriad of caricatures into a cohesive whole can easily be overlooked. That’s not the case with Ashley Simone Kirchner’s choreography which is enthusiastically performed by the talented young ensemble. Too, the entire work would collapse without the energy provided by the great 10-piece band under the direction of Brian Axford.

“Something Rotten” is not classic musical theater, but you will rarely find a work that captures the love of the art form more than does this. It will entertain you.

“Something Rotten” plays at the Washington Park Playhouse in Albany Tuesdays through Saturdays through July 22. Admission is free first come, first seated. Orchestra tables and seats can be purchased at playhousestage.org or at 518-434-0776

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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