The Wabash Theater department and musicals have a complicated past. The department hasn’t put on a musical since 2014, so when I overheard a friend say that the show’s director, Michael Abbott, was “working the actors like horses,” I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, Wabash has no shortage of talented performers and artists, but it feels like they’re constantly outshined by its athletes and academic achievers.
Wabash’s performance of ‘Something Rotten!’ exceeded my expectations. Nearly every aspect of the show was spot on, from the exaggerated acting to the expansive musical performances and the minimalist stagecraft. You can see the blood, sweat and tears that went into the production of the show plastered on every actor’s face. Throwing yourself through two-and-a-half hours of song and dance isn’t easy, but the troupe took it in stride as they put on a show that makes the nine-year wait worth it.
First things first: the acting was phenomenal. It hooked the audience in from scene one and held them throughout the entire show, drawing laughs and applause from literally everyone in the theater. From Luke Fincher’s act as a shy, yet hopeful, poet to Alex Schmidt’s portrayal of a hilariously insane soothsayer, it’s clear that, although the actors were small in number, they were big in talent. The non-Wabash performers, typically women portraying women, synergized smoothly with the rest of the cast; I could have never guessed that Wabash faculty and Crawfordsville High School would be sources of such flair. There were no sore thumbs sticking out of this performance.
Another highlight was the show’s live musical accompaniment. Every piece was matched by drums, horns and strings that played at just the right volume to complement the actors. Many of the songs had sudden shifts in mood and pacing, and the orchestra took these transitions perfectly, ebbing and flowing, dancing with the voices of the performers.
Let’s talk more about that dancing: the choreography, while not the highlight of the show, was impressive in its own right. The exaggerated, goofy moves of the ensemble took the play’s witty humor from funny to hilarious. Because of the comically drawn-out quality of many of the songs, the actors worked overtime to go from dance to dance without noticeable fatigue. There were some hiccups here and there with synchronization and placement of actors in some scenes, but they were quickly forgotten when a character would start twerking or forming an exaggerated kick line.
The set deserves a mention as well. The small yet efficient structural pieces allowed for quick and seamless switches from scene to scene. The solid costume design was complemented by Benjamin High’s backdrop rendering Elizabethan London, drawing me into the time period and the narrative the play weaved.
In case you haven’t gathered it by now, the show is funny. Very funny. Every two seconds there’s a double liner that’s sure to get at very least a chuckle from you, and delivery of these jokes is on par with that of a professional performance. To give credit where it’s due, the source material was brimming with possibilities to shine spotlights on the quirky personalities of the actors. Tom Oppman was the star of the show in this regard; His misplaced confidence and swagger as the shows’ arrogant Shakespeare was enchanting. The most crucial factor in good acting is enjoying it, and you could see clearly on the faces of everyone involved that the cast had a blast with this show.
Titling this play ‘Something Rotten!’ was an unfortunate choice. The passion and talent portrayed by everyone involved in this production made my Wednesday night a time to remember.
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