Wirtz Center premieres Renaissance romp and Broadway musical “Something Rotten!”


Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern

In “Something Rotten!”, Communication senior Peter Carroll plays the antagonist, a flashy and self-aggrandizing version of William Shakespeare.

Annie Xia, Reporter

The summer before his freshman year of high school, Communication junior Sean Zuckerman watched “Something Rotten!” on Broadway. Fast forward to this weekend (and the next), Zuckerman will be performing a lead role in Northwestern’s production of the play at the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

As a teenager, Zuckerman said he fell in love with the story’s bold and unapologetic celebration of theatre. He said the show reached the pinnacle of what musicals could make people feel.

“Even though no one would ever do this in real life, there’s such a pure way of expressing yourself through music,” he said. “I think it’s something really special musical theatre holds that other art forms don’t.”

Students will perform “Something Rotten!” on certain days between Feb. 10 to Feb. 20.

The show takes place in 1590s England and features a theatre world dominated by William Shakespeare. The play follows Nick and Nigel Bottom, two brothers who have ambitions of writing the next big play. Following a soothsayer’s advice, they create a new type of performance that combines acting with singing and dancing — a musical.

Pete Brace, the Wirtz Center’s marketing and development manager, said the lighthearted performance will be the “Renaissance romp” audiences need after two years of the pandemic.

“It hits really high on the fun meter,” Brace said. “And after the year we’ve had, everyone needs more fun.”

Guest Director Rory Pelsue emphasized the joyous aspect of “Something Rotten!”, but at the same time, he said he sees the musical as an exploration of deeper themes. 

For him, the show asks questions about what it means to create theatre in a capitalist society where art must be profitable. Pelsue added it was meaningful to see the passion of NU student performers. 

“It’s been so inspiring to see the students do it for love and certainly not for paychecks,” Pelsue said. “That’s brought me back to an earlier time before so many career pressures.”

For Communication senior Peter Carroll, who plays Shakespeare, “Something Rotten!” was the only production he auditioned for Fall Quarter. The musical’s combination of tap dancing, big numbers and Renaissance references felt as if someone had mixed all his interests together, he said.

After taking time off last year, the upcoming performances will be Carroll’s first in-person shows since 2019. He expressed how the show acted as a reminder that his love for theatre is a driving force in his life.

“Getting to come back and do theatre makes me realize it’s the thing that makes me feel like I’m doing my purpose,” Carroll said. “It makes my heart hurt in a good way. I just feel very, very lucky.”

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