Muir Musical brings “Something Rotten” to life

Muir Musical makes their return this Spring quarter with their whimsical and dazzling rendition of “Something Rotten.”
Muir Musical brings “Something Rotten” to life

There is something incredibly special about live theater. As an audience member, we are immersed in a new world and entertained with a story. Muir Musical’s rendition of “Something Rotten” delivers on that promise, taking us back to the English Renaissance. “Something Rotten” is the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, their theater troupe, and their encounters with William Shakespeare. The musical is a fresh take on the classic Renaissance environment that many know and love. 

This was my first time watching “Something Rotten,” and I was thoroughly entertained. The cast did a great job leaning into the comedic moments of the show and playing around with the silliness of it. It was fun to notice the director’s added details throughout the numbers like including modern dance moves in the opening number, incorporating our century into one from hundreds of years ago. In addition, the cast fully utilized the stage space to immerse the audience in the world. For example, Nick would be having a conversation on one end and Nigel would be having another on the other end. The ensemble members would react to what was happening on stage, giving the whole show so much life. 

A show is only as strong as its cast, and it is clear that Muir Musical is full of talented people. It is easy to root for the Bottoms and want them to succeed. Nick, played by Garrett Lee, was a strong pick to lead audiences through the shenanigans of the two-hour performance. I think this was complemented by Bea (Samantha Dea), who was a perfect addition to Nick’s seriousness and nailed every single comedic moment. I also thought Nostradamus, played by Wes Jensen, was created so well. The costume and makeup for the character were killer, and I laughed through every scene he was in. Another memorable performance for me has to be the Shakespeare (Nio Russell). The aura that Russell exuded fitted the character so well. Capturing audiences and the ensemble alike, Shakespeare was a great foil to the Bottoms. The costumes for The Bard gave the perspective of this over-the-top, larger-than-life writer and were fun. The vocals gave the character of Shakespeare a whole new life. 

I was able to interview Mia Van Deloo, the director behind the wonder of “Something Rotten” and the Artistic Director for Muir Musical. The musical is Van Deloo’s love letter to live theater and a classic homage to musical theater. She is a dramaturg — a literary advisor for theater — and loves how the show is rooted in history, while also blending time periods. In dealing with this show, she was intrigued by the idea of a college audience being presented with a different time period than 2024, especially as we are in a renaissance of our own. Van Deloo explains that in the wake of technology such as AI and the digital age, there is a threat to live theater. This is why she was excited to tackle “Something Rotten” from a historical perspective while still incorporating contemporary elements. 

The script had some challenging moments, but Van Deloo appreciated the challenge of setting a show with comedic timing as well as finding the heart of the show. There are many side characters written to serve the main character. Taking that into account, Van Deloo had to work through how to make the characters three-dimensional with a two-dimensional script. In addition, it was essential to find a balance between spectacle and real moments. Van Deloo also focused on playing into the laughs, but not anticipating when to be funny. She views this show as an adaptation that is unique from the original production; it was created with the UC San Diego  college-aged audience in mind. 

This can be seen in different decisions in the adaptation, with one standout change being that Nigel and Portia are queer. I think this added to both characters, as Portia was bolder in her advances while Nigel was a bit more unabashed. Van Deloo thought a lot about what would serve the community that she was working for. This production might not necessarily be what the original writers intended, but it’s perfect for the college audience as well as the cast and crew. 

Van Deloo considers herself a facilitator type of director as she leans on her amazing team. I saw this partnership in effect as a member of Van Deloo’s team brought her some hair tinsel they had been waiting to use for a specific number. Multiple members of the creative team chimed in on the discussion, and they opened the hair tinsel so they could discuss it further. This collaborative environment lended itself to the atmosphere of comfort that was felt. The actors and crew all trusted as well as leaned on each other. They all wanted to create a great show, and it paid off.   

Another aspect that contributed to the process is Van Deloo’s own past in theater. Van Deloo is a dancer first and dance-oriented, so visuals are important to her. It is necessary to acknowledge the parts of the show that are a spectacle. Van Deloo’s favorite number in the show is “Make an Omelette.” One of the reasons it’s her favorite is that it was such a collaborative effort. Van Deloo and the actors in the number all gave input to the scene and created an exciting result. There were a lot of fun individual moments as well as dance numbers. I enjoyed the tao dancing eggs. 

For Van Deloo, the best part of the process was getting to create something fun that brings people joy. All the smiles and laughs from both the cast and the audience prove that Van Deloo has done her job. Van Deloo also said that, through this show, she wanted to have fun.

“Theater is fun!” she remarked. “It doesn’t need to make us cry. It doesn’t need to be super serious. It can just have good vibes.” 

I spoke with Geneva Barker, a veteran actor of Muir Musical. Barker has been a part of other productions like “A Chorus Line,” “Into the Woods,” and “Rocky Horror.” In this production, she plays the part of Nigel Bottom. Nigel, a poet, is the self-conscious brother of Nick. Barker expressed gratitude for her three years of experience with Muir Musical, as she has met many new friends and has been able to perform in both principal and ensemble roles. Through Muir Musical, Barker has also gotten to explore her identity as an artist. In different productions, they have gotten to explore different gender aspects and play with the concept of gender in different ways. In the first show Barker joined, “A Chorus Line,” she didn’t know anyone, but she soon learned that the cast spent days of tablework just talking to each other. It was a unique way to begin the process and created a rich chemistry between the cast. 

During this process, Barker found that it could be challenging when a role toys with gender roles. Just on a technical level, the music is lower, and there are times when the script is written for a different gender. It can be difficult to look at the subtext or the material that isn’t written but still has to be portrayed. However, it is also rewarding. The gender-bending might have also been the best part of the rehearsal process, Barker explained. This version of “Something Rotten” takes a queer take on Nigel and Portia. It adds something new to the show in this context. A central song for Nick is “To Thine Own Self” and Portia is the first to encourage this confidence in Nick, Barker mentions. As for the overall experience in “Something Rotten,” it has been a delight for Barker. As a literature major, playing a poet whose main desire is to explore deep emotional truths was a joy, and they loved the opportunity to tap dance.  

Next, I spoke with Mary McCool and Naomika Nadkarni, both members of the ensemble. McCool and Nadkarni, in their second and first years respectively, both joined Muir Musical this year. For McCool, Muir Musical has been a supportive process. When she auditioned, she was awestruck by the talent and experience of many auditioners. At first, she felt out of the loop, but everyone was welcoming, and the process was fun. She loved learning the dances, where she learned new moves and honed existing skills. Her favorite part of the rehearsal process was the warmups. 

“We know how to be silly and be professional when we need to be and still can talk to each other while doing what we love, which is amazing,” McCool said. Her favorite number in the show is “A Musical.” It’s an eight-minute number that leaves McCool feeling accomplished and confident. In the number, she changes her shoes three times, including for a tap section. McCool also loves the number because it references other musicals like “Les Miserables” and “Annie.” The kickline in the number is a pleasing moment and the epitome of the musical. The hardest number for her is “Make an Omelet” because the tap-heavy and musically inclined number takes a lot of stamina. It is hard to sing and be on top of acting and dancing. Still, McCool shouts out the choreographers, Scarlett Arreola and Aubrey McNabb, who put so much work into the show, including the difficult numbers. 

Nadkarni had a similar experience. She was apprehensive, but everyone was so welcoming. “Something Rotten” is the biggest show she’s ever been a part of. Nadkarni now fully appreciates the amount of people it takes to do a full-scale production. She loved all the dances and choreography, but her favorite number is “We See the Light.” The number is a mix of cheesy musical theater and more difficult dance. The vocals are also fun. She agrees with McCool that the toughest number is “Make an Omelet” due to the coordination of singing and dancing.  When reflecting back on the whole pre-production experience, Nadkarni’s favorite moment from the rehearsal process was the first read-through. It was the first time she got to meet everyone and fully see how talented everyone is and how seriously everyone takes their craft. When asked how Muir Musical compares to other clubs Nadkarni has joined, she said it was a great organization for building community. 

Muir Musical is a longstanding tradition at UCSD, putting on high-level performances that are student-created. Van Deloo remarks that one thing she loves is the way the school celebrates Muir Musical; they take care of the tradition. She is thankful that there is a place where anyone of any major can join and collaborate in the arts within a creative community. Everyone I spoke to articulated the closeness they found in the organization. 

Gwyn Torio, who plays Lord Clapham, said their favorite part about Muir Musical is getting to create with people and getting to do something they love with people who are just as passionate as they are about the arts. Torio has met so many people who have become strong friends. They urge people who are into the technical aspects and performance aspects of theater to join Muir Musical because it is such a tight-knit community. This chemistry is apparent in their performances as well. It was buzzing on stage after the curtain closed on the final run. The cast whooped and so did the crew in the audience. Van Deloo ran from her place in the audience onto the stage to be with her cast and celebrate the run. 

Everyone in the cast and crew loves this show. I had a great time watching it. I suggest supporting local theater and going to see “Something Rotten.”

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About the Contributors
Laila Del Rio, Senior Staff Writer
Hana Tobias
Hana Tobias, Photographer
Hana is a fourth year Cognitive Science major.
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