Much of the humour in Something Rotten! comes from Nostradamus (Jyla Robinson), right, leading Nick (Kamyar Pazandeh) astray with incorrect visions of the future. (photo by Emily Cooper)
Theatre Under the Stars is a fun, relaxing way to ease yourself back into theatre after the COVID hiatus. Its two productions, Something Rotten! and We Will Rock You, are happy fare that alternate nights through Aug. 27, outdoors at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl.
The Independent saw Something Rotten! on opening night, hoping to see Jewish community member Daniel Cardoso, who plays Jewish moneylender Shylock in the TUTS productions. However, it was understudy Simon Abraham who took on the role of the moneylender that night. He and the entire cast put on a great show.
In this comedy, set in 1595, Shakespeare is monopolizing the theatre industry and playwright siblings Nick and Nigel Bottom are trying to write a hit. They face several challenges, including being in debt to Shylock, who is willing to forgive that debt if they permit him to produce their new production. However, they initially refuse because he and they could be put to death, as Jews at the time were permitted few professions, one of which was moneylender.
Something Rotten! takes on – in very light manner – antisemitism, the treatment of the poor and the place of women in Shakespeare’s time. It also takes on these issues as they are depicted in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry.
“Shylock has been a very interesting character to explore and I extremely grateful to our director, Rachel Peake, for giving me the chance to do so,” Cardoso told the Independent in an interview before the show opened. “In researching for this part, I certainly took a cursory look at Merchant of Venice, but only so I could have an idea of who Shakespeare’s Shylock is. Because of how much Something Rotten! subverts the audience’s expectations of these well-known Shakespearean characters, there are only a few similarities between what I’m doing and what we see in Merchant of Venice. I don’t think that antisemitism is a central theme of this show, but we certainly get a view of it through Shylock.
“I also dove into what antisemitism looked like during the time of the Renaissance,” he continued, noting that Jews were “expelled from England in the late 13th century and only officially allowed to return in the mid-17th. However, it does appear that there were indeed Jewish people living in England during Shakespeare’s time and that some even fled to England from Spain and Portugal, due to the Inquisition.”
Cardoso sees parallels between Shakespeare’s time and today’s undocumented immigrants in both Canada and the United States and the refugee crises around the world. “In trying to find a way into the Shylock ofSomething Rotten!,” he said, “I found myself drawing on these modern-day examples, as well as trying to imagine what it must have been like for Jewish people in the time of the Renaissance or various other points in history. I found that, given my own connection to the community, this hit quite close to home for me. At the end of the day, he’s a smart guy who works hard and, despite the obstacles in front of him, he is able to be an equal and a friend to many of the characters in the show.”
Not such a smart guy is Nick Bottom (Kamyar Pazandeh) who, in trying to skip the hard work and best Shakespeare (Daniel Curalli), seeks out a soothsayer, Nostradamus (Jyla Robinson), who tells him that musicals are the popular theatre of the future. Nick sinks the last pennies he and his wife Bea (Katie-Rose Connors) have into a musical production with a reluctant Nigel (Vicente Sandoval), who has Shakespeare’s talent but lives in his brother’s shadow. It is only after Nigel meets Portia (Cassandra Consiglio), the daughter of Puritans, that he becomes to his own self true.
The homage to and satire of both musicals and Shakespeare makes for a lot of laughs and reference guessing – is that line or musical snippet from Annie, Evita, Rent, A Chorus Line, or more than a dozen other shows? Standout songs are “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” with the Bottom brothers’ differing views of their main competitor; “The Black Death,” a cheery ditty about the plague, the Bottoms’ first musical attempt; “Will Power,” Shakespeare enjoying his rockstar status, amid fawning, crying, screaming, fainting fans; and “Make an Omelette,” the title song of the Bottoms’ new musical. Foreseeing Omelette instead of Hamlet as Shakespeare’s best-ever play is only one of the soothsayer’s many slightly incorrect visions.
“It’s been a privilege to get to work on Something Rotten!” said Cardoso, who has been in four other TUTS productions. “It’s an extremely funny show and, if you’re a fan of either musical theatre or Shakespeare, then you’ll have a fun time at this show. And, if you like both, even better!”
For tickets to either of this season’s productions, visit tuts.ca.
Joanna Garfinkel is part of the creative team behind the world première production of Berlin: The Last Cabaret, part of the PuSh festival. (photo from the artist)
The world première of Berlin: The Last Cabaret, presented at Performance Works Jan. 23-26 by City Opera Vancouver in association with Sound the Alarm: Music/Theatre, is almost sold out. Part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, the only tickets that remain will be sold at the door, though writer and Jewish community member Joanna Garfinkel told the Independent, “I hope we are able to add more presentation opportunities, as well, since this is truly becoming an exciting and rich production.”
Set in Nazi Germany in 1934, a group of artists must decide whether or not to perform their new political show – which, reads the press release for Berlin, “challenges state media, calls out the Nazi classification of gay individuals as ‘degenerates’ and includes parodic inflection that women are being marginalized” under the new regime – or save themselves.
The opera takes place “two weeks after ‘the Night of Long Knives,’” said Garfinkel, “when the future had been cast, but many were not yet seeing it, including my own family. One thing that interested me a great deal is how people are forced to make compromises under oppression, and even make excuses for what’s happening around them.”
The “Night of the Long Knives” was the June 30, 1934, purge by Hitler of more than 85 members of the Sturmabteilung, the Nazi party’s initial paramilitary wing.
Rather than being a satire itself, Garfinkel explained that Berlin: The Last Cabaret “is more an unearthing of the under-heard Jewish and queer artists who flourished in the Weimar era and were crushed by the Holocaust. The humour we employ is their urgent satire, which feels fresh and relevant with all that is going in the world right now.
“My own family escaped from Berlin to Winnipeg (eventually), so I am both bound to respect and honour the history, and also privy to the dark humour we employ about it.”
City Opera Vancouver approached Garfinkel last spring, she said. They had “heard about me from my dramaturgical work with Playwrights Theatre Centre and the historically based Japanese Problem for my own company, Universal Limited. I was excited by the opportunity to work with an opera company, which would be new to me, but on something quite close to my heart, history and interest.”
The relevance of the opera was one of the reasons she joined its creative team. In regard to choosing projects in general, she said, “Right now, it feels like art must be speaking to the world and on behalf of marginalized voices. Theatre is too much work, and the world too messed up, to work on projects that don’t resonate on an activist level. I am lucky right now to get to choose to work on things that are so resonant.”
Garfinkel, who is billed as librettist for the production, clarified that categorization.
“I contributed story, structure and additional dialogue for this piece,” she said, “but it’s important to note that the songs themselves are historical, written by composers Eisler, Spoliansky, Hollaender and Weil, so I am not, technically, the librettist. However, building a story and play around preexisting songs presents its own challenges. It was of central importance to me that the Jewish/queer and other marginalized artists of the time were centred in our story.
“We were working with excellent (but unavailable!) collaborators in our composers and, together with director Alan Corbishley, music director and historian Roger Parton and choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, tried to honour their work and build a vital story around it.”
Cheyenne Friedenberg is also a member of the Jewish community.
Berlin: The Last Cabaret stars actors with a background in music and spoken theatre, rather than traditional opera singers, and each performer, according to the press release, “was involved in the creation of their on-stage characters and storylines.” The production features a live four-person band.
For more information on PuSh, visit pushfestival.ca.