A Play, Within a Play, Within a Play…: Understanding the Various References in and Work Behind “Something Rotten!”

by The Cowl Editor on November 7, 2019


by Nicole Silverio ’22

News Staff

The past two weekends, beginning on Oct. 25, the Providence College Theatre Department has put on the comedic musical Something Rotten! This show is one of the largest and most challenging the theatre department has ever done, making it particularly unique. 

The director of the play, James Calitri, was very excited about this show and immensely proud of the cast and all the hard work that was put in to making the show a reality. “This is the biggest show we’ve ever done. Hundreds of costumes and tap dancing and about a dozen quick changes timed for seventeen seconds. We have a wardrobe crew of only five people.” 

Following Shenandoah University, PC is only the second college to gain the rights to perform the show. Calitri knew one of the producers, who entrusted him with doing the play on campus. 

Beginning the process on Sept. 3 and going into tech week on Oct. 18, 40 students auditioned resulting in 24 being cast.  Calitri talked about the cast of the show, saying, “Eleven students were either freshmen or brand new to theater, and they all worked so hard and were in great spirits. This show is the hardest show we’ve ever done but it has been a joy to work on it. It’s hard but we leave excited and proud.” 

 What made this show especially difficult was the physicality required by the cast. Out of all the tap dancers in the show, only three had tap experience. Calitri explained, “This was due to having great choreographers who helped the students build up their skills with things unfamiliar to them and to have the ability to appear equally as skilled as the ones who already have experience.”

 Maxine Wheelock, the costume supervisor, created hundreds of costumes, and the twenty four actors had seconds to do a costume change and return to the stage.

The sudden costume changes are only one part of the musical’s uniqueness, as the play also consists of intense lighting, sixty props, and additional sound. This is one of the biggest sets the Smith Center for the Arts has ever created, as well as the largest and most demanding volume of equipment they have ever needed. 

The crew for the production consisted of seventeen students and fifteen professionals who helped with the stage production. Famous professionals have worked with students such as a professional broadway star Liz Calloway, who helped with the stage experience, and Kyra Hockridge, director of Out Loud, who did team and ensemble building workshops with the students to bring them together. 

The stage manager of the play, Grace Dolan ‘20, had to manage hundreds of queues all at once. Since she plans to pursue stage management as a career, Calitri encouraged her to take on this challenge. She later told Calitri she needed this challenge before she graduates as this is a great resume builder and experience, since this musical is so complicated. 

Sixty props were created for the show, all made in Smith. These included handmade balancing scales and smoking pipes, as well as making replicas of Elizabethan-era items. 

Calitri explains that the show is approachable and heartfelt but generally very funny. The overarching theme is that it’s a parody of William Shakespeare, suggesting that his ideas were not always originally his own. 

The plot revolves around the Bottom Brothers, who create an idea that the character Shakespeare later steals and turns into Hamlet. The character of Shakespeare in this show is based off of a combination of Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Reflecting a conceited celebrity, Something Rotten!’s Shakespeare is not likeable. 

“If you’re not an expert in musical theater, you’ll just think the show is funny. If you are an expert in musical theater, you can catch the references to other musicals. There could be five to six references to other musicals in just one scene,” Calitri explained. In this one musical, there are about 80 homages to other shows such as Little Orphan Annie and My Fair Lady.  

“People don’t understand how unique theatre is. No one on campus does quite what we do. We meet with people from all over and I’ll work with them for ten hours and it’s very unique what we do over here and the community we’ve built,” explained Calitri. “They’re getting a full experience. We bring professional people in, they’re working with future artists to practice what they’re going to school for. That’s what’s unique about this department. People don’t always realize the life skills, reading body language, all these things they have to tackle.” 

He explained that since the tours do not go into  Smith, many students on campus have little to no knowledge about the building. 

Calitri added to this point, saying, “A main reason to do this play was to get people in the arts center, getting people to be more aware of the Smith Arts Center and take a peek into the building to see what’s going on.”

With sold out shows throughout the first weekend, it is easy to say that Something Rotten has been a major success. Students, faculty, and families will hopefully become aware of the Smith Center’s mission and dedication to their work and talent. 

Although much strenuous work has been put in to create Something Rotten!‘s final product, the cast and crew have made it a success and, therefore, believe it was all worth it. 

Hundreds of costumes were made for this PC production.
photo courtesy of Daniel Jameson ’21