Finally, a rollicking, no-holds barred musical opens on Broadway. Something Rotten!, its excesses sometimes going too over-the-top, nonetheless, is fun, clever, full of merriment and containing a bevy of high-spirited, ebullient actors.
It is the end of the 16th century and William Shakespeare (Christian Borle) has achieved rock star status as the playwright everyone loves and wants to emulate. Enter the Bottom brothers, Nick (Brian d’Arcy James) and Nigel (John Cariani), that write and produce their own plays in the shadow of The Bard. Unfortunately, they are in desperate need of a hit to keep their merry band of actors together and placate their moneyed patron. Complicating matters is Nick’s desire to make a better life for him and his wife Bea (Heidi Blickenstaff) and Nigel’s love for Portia (Kate Reinders) the daughter of the holier-than-thou Puritan, Brother Jeremiah (Brooks Ashmanskas). In desperation, Nick turns to a demented soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to help him divine the next big thing in the theater. His simple response of musicals sets in motion the wild, wacky and hugely entertaining Something Rotten!
The book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell is very funny, poking fun at theater conventions and musicals of the past. They have given their large and polished ensemble of performers robust characters, not an easy feat with so many actors and actresses requiring stage time. While the defining premise of the show is rather offbeat, the two somehow make it work. Two minor criticisms—First, towards the end of the production Kirkpatrick and O’Farrell do tend to go slightly overboard with their references to musicals past and, second, by the middle of Act II the barrage of jokes and one-liners noticeably stalls from the show’s beginning. In a sense, they have a hard time competing with themselves.
The score by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick is a delight. Tuneful, zany and frenzied the songs are delivered with a full-throttled gusto by the talented cast. From the raucous opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the bellyaching complaints of “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” to the madcap production numbers “A Musical” and “We See the Light,” the songs have a joyful assault on our auditory senses.
The cast is led by Brian d’Arcy James who throughout his career has tackled the dramatic (Titanic and Sweet Smell of Success) and the comedic (Shrek – the Musical). As Nick Bottom he is in fine form as the misguided, resolute Bottom brother. He also shows off a previously unheralded hoofing ability. John Cariani, as his brother Nigel, is hysterically excitable. Christian Borle seems like he is having a lot of fun playing the boorish, calculating Shakespeare. Brooks Ashmanskas, with his exaggerated histrionics, provides a perfect comic foil for the rest of the cast. Heidi Blickenstaff, popping up intermittently, provides humorous stability. Kate Reinders is a comic find and more then holds her own against such a formidable troupe. Brad Oscar should be the front-runner for Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony based on his delirious rendition, with other members of the cast, of the Act I production number, “A Musical.”
Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw takes full rein of the show, making it a tightly run piece of musical theater. Unlike his slip shoddy work with last season’s Aladdin (I thought that show was a bit of a mess). Nicholaw’s work is well-thought out bringing forth superb performances by the skillful group of thespians. As choreographer his high-octane dance numbers bring down the house.
The scenic design by Scott Pask can be whimsical; the costumes by Gregg Barnes are colorful with a slightly off-kilter take on renaissance garb.
Something Rotten!, a boisterous and jaunty ride not to be missed.