High Street’s cast, new $50K video wall are both dazzling

Cary Ginell reviews “Something Rotten”

The scene is a South London street in the 16th century. The brightly colored backdrop includes a hanging sign for a local pub. Suddenly, without warning, the sign breaks free and plummets to the ground. Wait a minute. What’s going on here? Backdrops aren’t supposed to do that.

This all takes place during High Street Arts Center’s rollicking musical satire “Something Rotten!” Despite a stellar cast of comedic actors, the show is literally upstaged by the stage. The production marks the debut of High Street’s new video wall, an electronic marvel assembled and installed by Patrick Duffy, the theater’s lighting designer, the night before the show opened on Oct. 13. We’ll get to the wall later, but first, something about the show.

“Something Rotten!” is based on the premise of “What if Shakespeare had a rival?” This concept sent brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick into full satire mode as they created a broad farce that takes on not just Shakespeare but Broadway musicals in general.

The plot features Nick and Nigel Bottom, two siblings who are jealous of William Shakespeare’s fame and will resort to anything to top him. A frustrated Nick turns to soothsayer Nostradamus, who has problems with the bandwidth in his prognosticating browser and recommends they invent a new concept called a “musical,” and stage a show called “Omelette” (mishearing “Hamlet”).

The result has elements of a Mel Brooks comedy, with less crudity, incorporating ideas seen in other shows such as “The Book of Mormon,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Spamalot” as well as tons of musical and spoken references to landmark Broadway musicals (keep a Bingo card handy).

Michael Rosenblum plays the calculating Nick Bottom as if he’d been playing him all of his life. Rosenblum is at his best in this kind of broad comedy but he is only one member of an outstanding cast that hits the mark with every joke, gag and pratfall. Aiden Kastner is Nick’s sweet-natured brother Nigel, who sings beautifully in a melodious tenor on songs like “I Love the Way,” a duet with his beloved Portia, played by Jacqueline Patrice, that rare kind of actress who can do raucous comedy without sacrificing femininity.

When Shakespeare makes his first appearance, it’s reminiscent of similar theatrical Elvises such as Conrad Birdie (“Bye, Bye Birdie”) and Pharaoh (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”). In the production we saw, understudy Kyler Bray played the Bard and it’s astounding how good he was after only a couple of days of rehearsal filling in for regular Jack Cleary. Bray performs Romeo’s sonnet from “Romeo & Juliet” as if it were a power ballad and brought down the house with his self-preening shenanigans.

The cast also includes the fabulous Courtney Potter as Nick’s wife Bea, a hilarious turn by Joey Langford as Nostradamus and Joe Mulder as the puritanical Brother Jeremiah. Director Tami Keaton is at her best when doing farce comedy and the show hums along without any letup, heightened by superior choreography from Dani Orjala and Melina Ortega.

Now back to the wall. High Street’s executive team of Ken Rayzor and Kathee Boyer had been dreaming about a video wall for years. The theater is essentially a black box space, with little backstage room or fly space, and it has always been a challenge to stage Broadway musicals there. But the new wall can do it all, consisting of 120 electronic panels that are assembled like Legos into a virtual

LED video screen measuring 21 feet wide by 17 feet high. It’s capable of seamlessly dissolving from scene to scene and incorporating animation, moving images and much more.

Video walls have been adopted by major L.A. theaters such as the Pantages and the Ahmanson but it is rare for a small community theater to be able to afford one (High Street’s ran around $50,000). This new technology will revolutionize regional theater. With a new shopping complex ready to go up across the street, High Street’s theater will continue to be an attractive entertainment venue for Moorpark visitors.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Mazeika