Normally, people don’t associate Nostradamus with the works of English playwright William Shakespeare. But that could change this summer as a result of a new Theatre Under the Stars production, Something Rotten!, which will be at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.
In this musical comedy set in 1595, an insecure actor, Nick Bottom, is frustrated that his career continues to founder long after a former actor in his troupe, Shakespeare, has rocketed to great fame as a playwright. In search of a solution, Bottom seeks advice from another character, named Nostradamus.
“He’s not the Nostradamus,” director Rachel Peake emphasizes in a phone interview with the Straight. “He’s the nephew of Nostradamus. He’s a soothsayer but he’s not quite as good as his uncle. So he predicts things a little bit wrong every time.”
This is at the heart of the comedy in Something Rotten!, which Peake describes as “a love letter to musical theatre”. It opened on Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards before closing in 2017. This July will mark the first time that it will be presented in Vancouver.
“A lot of people haven’t seen it because the rights have only recently become available,” Peake says.
According to Peake, the playwrights, John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, were determined to stay away from parody and stick to “satirical pastiche”. To deliver this, she needed to find actors who were triple threats, in that they could act, sing, and dance as well as understand comedic timing.
Nick Bottom is played by Kamyar Pazandeh, who exuded a “fountain of charisma” in the 2019 Bard on the Beach production of Shakespeare in Love, according to Straight reviewer Katherine Dornian. Shakespeare’s character is performed by Daniel Curalli, who previously appeared in the Theatre Under the Stars productions of Newsies, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Mary Poppins, and Hairspray.
The other cast members are Vincente Sandoval (Nigel Bottom), Katie-Rose Connors (Bea), Cassandra Consiglio (Portia), Jyla Robinson (Nostradamus), and Matt Ramer (Brother Jeremiah).
“There’s probably a higher number of emerging artists in a show at Theatre Under the Stars than there might be at another show,” Peake says. “That’s one of the things I love the most about it, because those artists tend to be incredibly hard-working and so excited to be launching into their professional careers.”
Peake, however, is no newcomer to the theatre, having already won three Jessie awards. She reveals that in Something Rotten!, there are reminders of some of our contemporary realities.
For example, London Bridge is festooned with graffiti but in Elizabethan-era language. The creepy area of town where the soothsayers hang out has neon signs, also with writing in the style of the Elizabethan age.
Peake credits choreographer Nicol Spinola for coming up with “some really spectacular show-stopping dance numbers”, including a “tap battle”.
“The opening number, ‘Welcome to the Renaissance’, is talking about how ignorant they were in the Middle Ages, and how the Renaissance is the new age, and how they’ve got all this new technology,” Peake reveals. “But, of course, the new technology at that time is like cauldrons and bellows from the fire.”
There has been a great deal of serious scholarship around Shakespeare in recent years, including whether there were multiple writers involved in his work. Peake says that Something Rotten! is an interesting piece for serious students of the English playwright and includes some inside jokes for his most ardent fans.
“The writers have definitely done their homework, but it is a comedy and it is a satire,” Peake states. “It puts a bit of a contemporary lens on it in terms of how hard it can be to keep coming up with hits. You know, once you had a blockbuster, the scrutiny gets much more intense.”
Something Rotten! also addresses issues and feelings that remain with many of us in the 21st century. For instance, Nick, the actor, wants Nostradamus to predict the next big thing in theatre to help him find success in his chosen field.
“So it’s a lot of fun, but it really has these beautiful central themes about just being true to yourself and finding your own voice,” Peake says. “And it looks at pressures—the pressure of family, the pressure of society—and how it makes us make the wrong choices sometimes.”
The director adds that there’s an underlying message that if people can learn to listen to their heart, they can manage to get back onto a path that’s right for them.
“So it’s a really beautiful piece as well as being extremely funny, with some killer numbers in it as well,” Peake says.