Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or restaurants, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Something Rotten!,” Broadway’s musical comedy about Shakespeare, kind of. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
Right off the bat, Dania could tell that Gwen was going to hate this show.
Which was disappointing. By the time applause for the opening number, the comedic and quick-moving “Welcome To The Renaissance,” had faded away, Dania could sense most of Gwen’s criticisms. The show wasn’t taking itself seriously. The history was entirely inaccurate. The comedy wasn’t funny enough – Dania had been overwhelmingly enjoying the humor, but assumed that Gwen would probably dislike it. After all, this was a musical that took it upon itself to rhyme “genius,” describing Shakespeare, with “penis,” describing the put-upon protagonist Nick Bottom who hated the Bard. In fact, his rant regarding why Will gets to be “The Bard” rather than just “a bard” had mirrored a conversation Dania and Gwen had actually had once.
The musical continued, breathlessly segueing into each song, each comedic moment, each blindingly impressive and slightly cluttered dance sequence. Dania felt her appreciation for the musical grow and grow – a story that didn’t mind being a little messy or convoluted! A female empowerment subplot that didn’t overtake the entire focus! Enough references to the musical theatre canon that she could actually pick them up! In Dania’s eye, it was a musical in the mold of how musicals were once made. Fitting, she thought, since this musical is about “the first one.”
But in the back of Dania’s mind, Gwen stuck like a tomato lobbed at the proscenium. This was not her kind of show, Dania thought. Then why is she here?, came the response. But of course, Dania knew the real reason: Gwen was here with her and Eleanor, gritting her teeth through the slapstick and gay camp, willing to watch something she considered trashy with people who wouldn’t mind if the play really was.
It was a stance Dania didn’t see any problem with. After all, at least this “amateur” work was being produced in a gorgeous venue, with cushy seats and high production values and a real orchestra, rather than the bad theatre that Gwen often went to alone – tucked into poorly lit basements, sitting on folding chairs and watching people really act. Of course, Dania always saw “real acting” as a cover for “indulgent acting,” but to each their own, she conceded. Gwen has her preferences and I have mine.
During the play’s eleven o’clock comic masterpiece, the Elizabethan-ish musical written by the Bottom Brothers, Dania teared up laughing at the quick pace and extravagant costumes. By this point, she had forgotten about Gwen, lost in the musical’s hazy atmosphere. But glancing to her right briefly, she caught Gwen smiling at the scrambled scene on the stage. Well, Dania thought, I know I’m not the only one enjoying this.
The play wrapped up quickly, with the lovers paired off and authorship attributed to the right plays. Dania leapt to her feet to applaud the production’s hard-working ensemble. Eleanor joined when Adam Pascal bowed for his role as The Bard himself. Gwen, true to form, remained sitting even when the couple ahead of her stood in front of her view.
As they packed up, snaking through the crowd piling out of the Oriental Theater, Dania tucked the program away in her bag. They reconvened at the bottom of the theater’s staircase, to brave the human tidal wave spilling onto the street, and Eleanor got a few words out to Dania.
“One hundred yards,” she warned, with her eyes leaning towards Gwen.
The trio made it onto the street and began walking towards the Red Line. As they walked, Dania caught a small snippet of music coming from her right. It sounded distant, barely audible under the traffic noise on State Street. But it was constant…da doo dat da daaah da dah…
She looked over, past Gwen, to catch Eleanor’s head bobbing up and down in time with this tune.
“Are you humming the opening number?” Dania asked.
Eleanor smiled. “It’s in my head! It was the closing number, too, we just heard it.”
The two laughed. Gwen smiled, slightly. Dania considered singing along with Eleanor’s humming, but couldn’t remember any of the lyrics besides the titular “welcome to the renaissance.”
“‘Cause ‘renaissance’ means rebirth!'” Eleanor quoted, finishing the song.
“Right, right,” Dania said. “Wow, that feels like forever ago. This was a long one, lots of good moments to remember.”
“Yep,” Eleanor agreed. “It was just super, super funny. The entire time. It never stopped.”
“It was sort of like The Producers, a little bit,” Dania observed. “Two dudes putting on their own musical, despite it’s terrible quality.”
“Yeah!” Eleanor said. “They had something on the marquee about that. Some review clipping, like, ‘The Producers meets something meets something else.’ Did you catch that?”
“I know that Book of Mormon was cited there somewhere,” Gwen said. “For some reason.”
“Probably because it’s funny,” Dania said.
“Okay,” Dania said, as they began to descend the steps to the Red Line. “Let’s jump to conclusions. I’m going to predict that I really liked it…”
“What a way to start your predictions,” Eleanor said. Dania shot her a disapproving look.
“I liked it, Eleanor also liked it a lot,” Dania continued. “And Gwen…”
She thought as she fished in her wallet for a Metra card. “I’m going to go with strong loathing.”
Gwen and Eleanor laughed. Through the turnstiles, the girls descended to the platform single file on the thin stair.
“I didn’t like it very much,” Gwen said. “But I can’t really hate it either.”
Dania, leading the group, stopped to turn around and glare at Gwen.
“That’s the least satisfying review you could have given it,” Dania said, her eyes telegraphing deep disappointment. “I fully expected you were about to go off on a tirade about it.”
“No, not really,” Gwen said. They dispersed onto the platform, finding a support beam to lean on.
“So, what, you had no real opinion on it?” Dania asked.
“That’d be a first,” Eleanor joked.
“It’s hard to say…” Gwen began, before stopping to select her words.
“I didn’t like it, that’s for sure,” she continued. “It’s not my style of humor. It’s too broad, the jokes are too easy – every single phallic anything, it takes every easy dick joke.”
“‘We will have no more of these sinful erections!'” Eleanor quoted, smiling, with a finger raised declaratively in the air.
“Perfect example,” Gwen said. “What was the purpose of the puritan subplot? Was it particularly funny or relevant to anything? Did it matter beyond being the arbitrary reason the secondary lead can’t get to his love interest?”
“Oh, come on, Gwen,” Eleanor mocked. “You gotta love a good pun joke.”
“And the references – it’s just so many references.”
“I loved that!” Dania said. “And how can you not love that, you’re Ms. Musical Theatre, with all your drama history. You were probably getting twice as many of those jokes as I was!”
“They’re not jokes, though!” Gwen said. “It’s just references. Nothing more than ‘oh we mentioned ‘Cats,’ you know that, so laugh.'”
“Yeah,” Dania said. “And people do. So what’s the problem?”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Like I said, not my style of comedy. It’s certainly not Book of Mormon, that’s way better written.”
“Well, I thought it was pretty good,” Eleanor said. “Not as excellent as you, Dania, but still fine.”
“Well, what’s wrong with it?” Dania asked.
“Female characters are a big one,” Eleanor started. “Only two named female characters and they’re both completely defined by relationship to some dude.”
Gwen snapped her fingers. “True,” she agreed. “I really liked the first one’s song to Nick about being independent, the ‘Right Hand Man’ one – if it had gone anywhere or affected the plot at all.”
“I thought the same thing,” Eleanor said. “When she showed up again in Act II, I had basically forgotten she was there.”
“And race, too,” Eleanor continued. “You have a single named black character and that name is literally Minstrel? What the hell.”
“Ah,” Dania said, in a bit of a choke. She hadn’t noticed that.
“And I, also, got phallic fatigue,” Eleanor said. “Too many dumb sex jokes. Although that final musical number when they actually premiere the piece they’re writing is…” She raised her fingers to her lips, kissing them like an Italian chef.
“Totally!” Dania said. “That was the best part. And I know, Gwen. I saw you smiling during it. Admit it.”
Gwen smiled again. “Sure, I’ll admit that. It was the best part – fast-paced and with humor based around the references, rather than just references alone. Another comparison point to The Producers, for sure.”
“Oh, yeah,” Eleanor realized. “It’s like Springtime for Hitler.”
“‘The Nazis have arrived!'” Dania said, a final quote from the evening.
The three laughed as the L train arrived to take them home.
“But no, in answer to the earlier point,” Gwen continued. “It’s not a very good musical, but I can’t really hate it. It’s just not doing anything new or interesting.”
“But not every musical has to,” Eleanor said. “Right? If it’s functional and funny, that’s always a plus.”
Gwen shrugged. “Well, it’s on a forty-city tour. It’s doing something right.”
“Hehe,” Dania said, to herself, humming a little tune. “Da da da da da, ‘it’s eggs, it’s eggs!‘”