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‘Something Rotten’ Preview: Hyperion Breaks with Tradition, Stages a Musical

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The Hyperion Shakespeare Company’s repertoire following the post-COVID return to campus has up to this point stuck to the Bard, with stagings of “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Winter’s Tale,” and “King John.” This semester, the group is breaking with tradition by producing “Something Rotten,” a 2015 musical comedy written by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, with music by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. The Harvard adaptation premiers on Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Nov. 5 on the Loeb Mainstage.

Set in London in 1595, “Something Rotten” follows the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, two brothers and struggling playwrights in the shadow of their contemporary, Shakespeare, who with the help of Nostradamus hope to rise into fame by writing and staging a musical.

As director Samuel F. Dvorak ’23 says, Hyperion “almost always [stages] Shakespeare proper.” And so “Something Rotten” — a modern musical — marks a departure from what the group usually performs. But it is a change the group is not hesitant to make.

“We really appreciate Shakespeare and we love doing his works, but we're also not afraid to do something a bit more Shakespeare-adjacent,” said Taylor Kruse ’23

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Hyperion’s stated mission is not just to perform Shakespeare at Harvard, but also to increase the presence of Shakespearean theater at Harvard outside of the academic realm. And staging a musical-homage to the Bard could go a long way towards that goal.

“It's hard to make Shakespeare accessible,” Dvorak said. “Hopefully people who have never read a Shakespeare play in their lives will see this show and can be excited to explore more.”

Crucially, though, the biggest change from the perspective of the production team might not be the show’s themes, but its scale. “[It] is a bit of a change of pace from like the smaller scale production of the usual Shakespeare plays,” Dvorak said. “I think this has been such an ambitious show and every element… is really big. It's the biggest show I've ever seen.”

Ambitious seems the right word to describe Hyperion’s production of “Something Rotten.” “It's very much a tribute to musical theater in the way that the show is written. And … that's very much incorporated into choreography and staging, said Caron S. Kim ’24, the show’s choreographer.

The show’s emphasis on music, choreography, and dance was not without its challenges, but, as Kim says, “everyone stepped up.” Tap dancing — which the show incorporates in three of its numbers — is a prime example. Despite the show’s relatively short, seven-week turnaround, all of its 21 cast members learned how to do it. “[They] were up for the challenge and succeeded with flying colors,” Kim said.

Indeed, the show seems to shine not in spite of, but because of its technical difficulty and sophistication. “This is perhaps the most technically amazing set that I've been a part of and I’m just floored by every single technical aspect of it,” Kruse said.

Another obstacle the team has overcome were the issues with the source material itself. The production team worked together to find readings and interpretations of certain problematic parts that would at the same time “feel true and are actually funny.”

“There are things that read differently now than [they] maybe read then, especially when you think of a show that was pushing the envelope of what was funny in 2015,” Dvorak said.

But in the end, the show’s humorous, somewhat sanctimonious book might be the production’s greatest strength.

“I've never laughed more watching a musical,” Dvorak said. “It's the most funny show out there. ‘Infectiously happy’ is a nice way to describe it.”

Importantly for the Harvard community, there is more to the show than just the laughs and silliness.

“I think it's a show about being true to yourself, about battling imposter syndrome, in addition to the hugely comedic aspects of it,” Dvorak said.

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