Shakespeare scramble: Something Rotten at High Street Arts Center

When it comes to theater, you can’t beat William Shakespeare. Drama, comedy, history and romance — he wrote it all and remains one of the premier English playwrights in modern times. So, tread carefully when you decide to skewer him on stage with, of all things, a musical.

Such is the brashness of High Street Arts Center’s Something Rotten. Not only does it poke uproarious fun at the Bard, but also musicals, dance numbers and anything to do with an omelet. Yes, there’s a big number in the middle of the show about . . . eggs.

It’s the start of the 1600s, and Shakespeare (Jack Cleary) is at the height of his prowess — a rock star in English theater. So much so that brothers Nick (Michael Rosenblum) and Nigel (Aiden Kastner) Bottom can’t seem to compete nor even develop a decent idea for a new play. Yes, they have a benefactor willing to front them and a businessman willing to step in as a partner. But what to write?

Nigel, the writer, is hopelessly blocked, except for his poetry, which brother Nick poo-poos as sentimental drivel. To complicate matters, he falls in love with Portia (Jacqueline Patrice), a Puritan’s daughter. Now, he’s not only blocked but distracted. What to do?

Nick secretly seeks the advice of fortune teller Nostradamus (Joey Langford), who has a revelation about the future of theater. They’ll do a . . . musical? The musical hasn’t yet been invented in English theater and, to Nick, the idea seems preposterous. But the siblings are desperate. So, a musical it is.

Another quandary is what to make the musical about. Well, here’s a bright idea straight out of modern English life: How about the Black Death? That costs him his benefactor. Up next: Omelette, The Musical! Because everybody loves eggs. The idea takes off.

I mean, who really can compete with Shakespeare? Certainly not the Bottom brothers. You can feel the antipathy as if it were a blanket over your head. Sweating for something original and cut off from anything close to inspiration. But creativity being what it is, these brothers can’t stop trying. So, eggs it is.

Something Rotten casts a wide net for its comedy. It takes on Shakespeare, musicals and dance and uses innumerable quotations from theater and poetry. It includes rock music, tap dancing, jazz and Les Misérables. You name it, you’ll find it. Pulling off something like this takes a lot of confidence, but the play goes for the brass ring and leaves you laughing.

The meew-si-cal, as correctly pronounced, is full of catchy songs, raucous dance and a libretto of send-ups. Credit the cast, especially Rosenblum and Kastner, for leaving it all on stage. But you also must appreciate the angst and success of Cleary as Shakespeare. It’s hard to be the Bard. Everybody wants you. But behind the scenes, is he original or willing to crib where he can? Even if it’s for a friend like Nigel? Questions abound.

And then there’s one of the stars of the show — the background graphics. Instead of a set, you get high-resolution graphics. You’re watching 4K set design on a giant screen. Nice touch.

When Something Rotten opened on Broadway in 2015, it was nominated for 10 Tonys and won for Best Featured Actor (Christian Borle, as Shakespeare) in a Musical. It’s a musical and a comedy and a loving tribute to both Shakespeare and modern theater. Also, it pays tribute to that most elusive of gifts — creativity. When life gives you eggs, make an omelet. And that’s precisely what Something Rotten does. A really tasty one.

Something Rotten onstage through Nov. 12 at the High Street Arts Center, 45 E. High Street, Moorpark. For schedules and ticket information, go to

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