Stage 62’s “Something Rotten!” Is Anything But Rotten

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD

Carnegie-based theater company Stage 62 favors musicals and continues the theme with their latest production: Something Rotten!

While first produced in 2015, Something Rotten! takes place in 1595. The musical traces brothers and aspiring playwrights, Nick and Nigel Bottom. The pair is on a quest to pen a play that supersedes – or at least rivals – the meteoric success of the era’s leading playwright, William Shakespeare.

The play is geological strata of meta. There’s a play within a play layered with references from the Elizabethan to modern musicals like Hair and Cats. In addition, the brotherly playwright duo of Nick and Nigel mirror the musical’s own origin story. Two brothers, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, conceived of the story and wrote the music and lyrics.

Shakespeare wasn’t just a contemporary literary foe for the fictional Bottom brothers. He is still widely considered the best writer in the English language, yet details about his life are scant.

Here Shakespeare is fully self-aware of his rockstar status. From the moment he swaggers on stage, B.A. Goodnack is unwaveringly commanding as Shakespeare. Goodnack’s towering height reinforces his golden boy status. He physically rises above the starry-eyed ensemble who all scramble to don sunglasses when he first enters. The gesture is both mimicry as Goodnack is wearing shades as well as symbolic of his luminosity.

Costume designer Michelle Nowakowski imbues Shakespeare with a dripping bad boy attitude. Goodnack asserts his presence in skintight black leather pants and black leather boots with a fitted black leather vest over a white peasant shirt. He’s Harry Styles meets Mick Jagger.

The cast of “Something Rotten” fills the stage.

When Goodnack belts out “Will Power” in Act 1, he performs from a riser with coordinated back-up dancers. The scene radiates boyband vibes. The ensemble gathered in front of the stage upon a stage have their backs to the actual audience. They gyrate and faint as Shakespeare performs and elicits call and response. Director Rob James has Goodnack effortlessly trust fall off of the mini-stage. He’s confident he’ll be caught by the adoring masses, crowdsurfing, the audience eager to absorb his “Will Power” and the halo of his fame. You can almost hear the “when I touched Shakespeare” afterparty chatter.

The Bottom brothers provide a stark contrast to Shakespeare. Their name denotes their career cap. Symbolically, Nick Bottom’s (Brian Ferris) first song is “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” Vocal director Becki Toth has Ferris almost spit out the title as he sings it.

Nick’s lingering emphasis on “God” foreshadows the on-stage arrival of the Puritans who protest the theaters as dens of iniquity. It’s the Renaissance equivalent of protesting woke books and reminds us of the era-spanning omnipresence of those who want to ban varying forms of entertainment on self-defined moral grounds. Nick’s hatred is only thinly veiled jealousy. His disdain extends to anything that makes him feel lesser, and as an aspiring playwright, Shakespeare tops that list.

Anna Gergerich is brilliantly cast as Nick’s wife, Bea. She’s loving and supportive but also realistic and grounded. She solicits Nick’s support to let her get a job to overset their financial struggles, reminding him “this is the 90’s.” Her indignance pairs with the audience’s reference point of the 90’s as 1990’s, which elicits laughter. Rob James directs her to a perfect beat before punctuating her assertion with “By 1600, women will be equal to men.”

The play continually bridges old and new, reminding us that while we like to think things have changed, they have changed more by shades of grey than orders of magnitude. Fast-forwarding, gender equality is still elusive, but the century-crossing optimism for the near-term immediacy of that reality is cheering.

Bea’s song imploring her husband to let her be his “right hand man” proves prophetic. Cross-dressing is the only way she can get hired. Her unabashed enthusiasm at income-earning, even when she’s hired as “bear shit boy” (“…I have a job title!!”), points to the limited circumference of Elizabethan women.

Younger brother Nigel (Sean Whitney) is the actual writer of the duo. Whitney manifests Nigel’s lack of self-confidence with a permanent slouch, and he’s prone to panic attacks. However, he’s more emotionally nuanced than his older brother, perhaps because he is the more capable writer. Nigel can admire Shakespeare without hating him.

Driven to desperation with impending deadlines, Nick consults a soothsayer. Nostradamus (Dixie Surewood) steals the show in garnering laughs. His fortunetelling connects back to the broader themes of covering the ages. His prophecies mix the Elizabethan with the modern; Nostradamus spins a few centuries forward when he identifies “musicals,” which he proceeds to explain in song, as the next big theatrical trend. Costume designer Michelle Nowakowski appropriately positions Surewood as visionary mad scientist with wild white hair. His look and character blend Doc Brown from Back to the Future with Beetlejuice. Hilarity ensues as Nick attempts verbatim translations of Nostradamus’ visions to the stage.

Something Rotten! is clever to the core, rhyming pewter and Tudor in the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance,” which is bookended by “Welcome to America” in which “nothing rhymes with America but who cares.” The show vibrates with self-referential fun across the ages and for all ages. Stage 62 provides a wicked good time.


Something Rotten! runs through July 30, 2023 in Carnegie, PA at Carlynton Junior-Senior High School. Learn more and purchase tickets online at

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