Since captivating Broadway when it first opened in April 2015, with superstars Christian Borle and Brian d’Arcy James, “Something Rotten!” has proven to be more than just a musical. 5-Star Theatricals’ regional production, which has Richard Israel at the helm and Michelle Elkin as the choreographer, continues its run at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center (Fred Kavli Theatre) in Thousand Oaks, CA through Sunday, February 13th. It is a production that masterfully engages its audience with captivating performances and an onstage energy that never relents.
In fact, one would be in for a formidable challenge to find a show that has the audience in its thrall like this one does, delivering several rounds of laughter and whooping from the audience. Much of it is certainly a testament to John O’Farrell, as well as Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, whose script, music, and lyrics make up an original story with superb callbacks to previous musicals. And, with Israel as the director to actualize the Kirkpatrick brothers’ metaphorical Cornwall story — represented by Nick and Nigel, the Bottom Brothers — this wonderfully absurd story gloriously celebrates Shakespeare and the epoch of his time as a comedy of errors that increasingly builds on its momentum.
Mitchell Johnson (center) stars with the company in the 5-Star Theatricals production of “Something Rotten!” at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin
The narrative takes place in the 1590s with Shakespeare reimagined as an oft-plagiarizing, leather-pants-wearing flamboyant rock star, lyricizing in iambic pentameter for his swooning fans. Aleks Pevec plays the sassy Will, who saunters, preens, and makes sure his posture and stance are always unimpeachable. Shakespeare’s genius perturbs the playwright Bottom brothers, particularly the disconsolately mystified Nick (Justin Michael Wilcox), who can’t stand to see his own insecurities juxtaposed against the bard’s success. This compels the desperate Nick to consult Nostradamus’ nephew Thomas (Randy Brenner) to prophesize and purloin Shakespeare’s biggest hit to come, except for one minor issue: “Hamlet” is erroneously identified as “Omelette,” the musical of the future. Yes, this prompts an entire show about eggs and the multitude of ways they can be prepared and enjoyed.
A terrific omelette can hit the spot, and so does “Something Rotten!” as it sates all five senses due to not only the direction and music (led by the talented musical director Anthony Lucca), but Paul Black’s immersive scenic design, Alex Choate’s collection of scene-boosting props, Will Brattain’s lavish costumes — which take us back more than 400 years – and the performers who deservingly have as much fun as the audience. It’s not enough to say that the entire cast is incredibly talented — because they are; it’s the fact that their onstage drive to give it their all is undoubtedly apparent, melding in perfect collaboration with each other, just as the ingredients that go into a well-crafted omelette.
Bella Gil, Aleks Pevec and Frankie Zabilka star in the 5-Star Theatricals production of “Something Rotten!” at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin
As William Shakespeare, it should be further noted that Pevec transforms into the larger-than-life icon, with a vocal snarl and a seamless diction that ignites and soothes his admiring followers. His burst onto the scene during “Will Power” evokes both the modern-day obsession with celebrity and the carefree sensibility of the 16th century. Pevec also wins over attendees with his rendition of “Hard to Be the Bard,” as his Shakespeare whines in a facetiously ludicrous fashion while also basking in the aura of his own legend. Pevec’s performance is tireless in hitting all the notes that it does.
Justin Michael Wilcox ingeniously takes overwrought cynicism to new heights as Nick Bottom (who is interestingly named after one of Shakespeare’s characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). His fervid presence can be felt by the furthest person away from the stage as he agonizes while singing, “God, I Hate Shakespeare” (which, like many of the numbers, expertly incorporates the magnificent ensemble) and tap-dances with great skill, besting Pevec’s Shakespeare in a toe-punching duel. Yet, there is a soft side to Wilcox’s Nick Bottom, who is fortunate to have a supportive and loyal wife named Bea, portrayed by Brittany Anderson. The Master’s University graduate flourishes as an empowered female figure, and by being versatile and genuinely heartfelt in her depiction. Not to mention, she bowls everyone over with her elite, nuanced, and breathtaking vocals in “Right Hand Man.”
Randy Brenner (center) stars with the company in the 5-Star Theatricals production of “Something Rotten!” at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin
As the sensitive, diamond-in-the-rough poet, Frankie Zabilka is impeccably cast as Nigel Bottom. Notwithstanding some intended awkwardness, Zabilka’s Nigel, who is a huge fan of Shakespeare and what the right words can evoke, is the heart of the production. Moreover, Nigel serendipitously finds his elusive love match, Portia, a repressed puritan girl, who is played by Bella Gil. Her comic timing is touching and funny — especially with regard to how excitable she is by creatively constructed sentences — and her chemistry with Zabilka is palpable. Suffice it to say, the two are responsible for some of the show’s sweetest moments. Gil’s character is also the daughter of an in-the-closet, unintentionally double-entendre-speaking father named Brother Jeremiah who is played uproariously by Jalon Matthews.
Arguably, though, the most charismatic and memorable portrayal belongs to Randy Brenner’s Thomas Nostradamus. Brenner is a craftsman of fine humor, and has a knack for inviting us completely into his character’s reality. Similar to how his role can peer into the future, Brenner is able to augur the mood of the crowd and the exact manner in which he can say his lines to elicit the biggest possible response. Undoubtedly, O’Farrell and the Kirkpatrick brothers’ cleverness has something to do with it, but Brenner is specifically exceptional during “A Musical,” as he fabulously emotes the objective ridiculousness of spontaneously breaking into song, and making one amazing reference after another to “Music Man,” “Rent,” “Chicago,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” and more. Eventually, Nostradamus’ visions become the constituent parts that contribute to “Make an Omelette” – a surreal escapade of the highest magnitude, where eggs are beaten into submission amidst hilariously out-of-context musical excerpts.
Aleks Pevec, Justin Michael Wilcox and Tyler Marshall (center) star with the company in the 5-Star Theatricals production of “Something Rotten!” at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin
The sensational production also features L. Michael Wells as the amiable Shylock, Joe Hebel as the extravagant and highly exasperated Lord Clapham, and a tremendous ensemble – led by the charming Mitchell Johnson as the Minstrel — who hoof about and punctuate songs like “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “The Black Death,” and “We See the Light” with intoxicating fervor and panache. Overall, “Something Rotten!” earns the absolute highest recommendation for not only entertaining unremittingly, but for earning ear-to-ear smiles, belly-aching guffaws, and a boundless admiration from its enraptured audience who likely won’t have a better time at the theatre any time soon.
For more information about “Something Rotten!” at the Fred Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks, CA, please visit 5startheatricals.com
There are only four performances left: Friday, February 11th at 8:00 pm, Saturday, February 12th at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and finally Sunday, February 13th at 1:00 pm.
Before being admitted, there will also be a health check in which patrons must show ID (if over 18 years of age) and show proof of full vaccination (two weeks after the final dose) against COVID-19. Otherwise, one must provide a negative PCR test administered within two days of the event or a negative antigen test administered within one day of the event. Additionally, in compliance with the Ventura County Public Health Order all persons, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks or face coverings when indoors.