To Be Or Not To Be Merely Something Rotten

In a society plagued with the disease of necessary innovation around every corner, it is understandable why the new musical comedy Something Rotten has enthused audiences. The human race has always expected to enjoy new inventions and ideas, yet as society continues to develop, these new revelations are harder to manufacture. 

I had the opportunity over spring break to see a performance from the first U.S. national tour of Something Rotten which opened on Broadway in 2015. This musical, which takes place during the Renaissance, centers around two brothers, Nigel and Nick Bottom, who attempt to invent something new for the stage to outshine Shakespeare’s plays. With some help from a Soothsayer, the elder brother is enlightened on what will enthrall audiences in the future: musicals. Something Rotten mocks audiences for their love of this source of entertainment that is often filled with unnecessary dance breaks, unexpected singing, and random plot ideas and characters. 

This musical truly did entertain me, and I enjoyed and was quite impressed by the writing and the performance. Although Something Rotten mocked some of the typical musical quirks that do not necessarily develop the plot, this musical had an engaging story-line and dynamic characters. Particularly the two Bottom brothers showed great character development and artistry throughout the story. Josh Grisetti, who played Nigel Bottom, was the best vocalist in my opinion and truly brought a unique, charming character to the story. My favorite aspect of the musical was the numerous comedic references to some of the best musicals in history: Mary Poppins, 42nd Street, The Music Man, Annie, The Sound of Music and many more.  Despite the occasional crude jokes, I thoroughly enjoyed Something Rotten and would definitely recommend it. 

The moral of the story was pretty typical to modern entertainment: just embrace your true self, add a little love, and everything will be set right. Something Rotten ended with raucous applause and a standing ovation. This musical successfully portrayed a light hearted comedy that entertained through song and dance and reinforced the audience’s common beliefs. 

The story of Something Rotten revealed and proved that audiences absolutely love musicals with random, unnecessary dance breaks and an entertaining, unchallenging story. This realization of what causes audiences to give this enthusiastic “we loved it” response to everyday musicals does beg the question, why does our culture desire pure entertainment as opposed to challenging plot lines or convicting characters? Some of the most popular and successful musicals seem to be the ones that focus less on the storyline and more on the wow-factor. These mega musicals typically feature big, astounding sets and big, incredible numbers that cause audiences to respond in big, thundering applause. 

However, many dramatic performances that feature smaller, more realistic elements along with a challenging plot that fail to leave you with happy, butterfly feelings have typically been less successful in comparison to these entertainment driven musicals. This reality seems to point towards society’s desire to be entertained and affirmed in their own beliefs rather than challenged and left unsettled. As believers, it is important to understand society and be aware of the worldview of the current generation. We ought to appreciate being challenged with the various beliefs of our day and seek for our perspective to be questioned rather than just join this need for entertainment. 

Although there is nothing wrong with the enjoyment of merely entertaining music, drama, literature, and artwork, it is important for Christians to seek to be challenged by art and allow it to spur us towards facing popular problems and current issues. Engagement in the fine arts is vastly important, and Christians ought not to be afraid of getting involved and seeking to understand the current culture. However, the church must not follow the rest of society’s desire to be merely entertained by the next big thing, but instead believers must take every opportunity to wrestle with the various challenges of the day. And what better way to understand the culture than to engage in artistic productions that are currently popular? 

So, I highly recommend you seeing Something Rotten and other musicals, and please enjoy pieces of art, music, and drama. But, do not allow yourself to be merely entertained by art – seek to engage with it. Use it to analyze the perspective of the world that the art reveals. Are we not called to be in but not of this world? Maybe then musicals and entertaining art forms can be an avenue towards better understanding our culture and do not have to be viewed as merely something rotten indulging our desire for pure entertainment after all.