by Brenda W. Clough
There are two audiences for any work. Of course you want the newbies: the people who never read fantasy before Tolkien, who never cared about wizards before cracking Harry Potter. You want to be the portal, the introduction, the entryway to a whole exciting new universe for people. Lots and lots of people! The seminal works always find a new audience.
But a work always has a smaller, more exclusive audience — the readers or viewers who know. The people who get it, when Edna Mode cries, “No capes!” They people who can look at the mere title Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and know what the play is likely to be about. Sometimes this audience is very, very small — you and your beta readers. Sometimes the overly-subtle author has outside help. Would Alan Moore even be able to publish his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels, if it were not for Jess Nevin’s glosses and footnotes?
The musical Something Rotten! definitely trends in the second direction. You’ll enjoy it tons more if you are one of the cognoscenti. To know your way around The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is essential, but you probably ought to have a good grip on American musical theater of the past thirty years as well. And if you do, it’s a delight — fuller of Easter eggs than the candy aisle in March. The plot is thin but reasonable, the songs are charming, and the dance is, for once, essential.