You can’t judge a show by its title, and never was that more the case than with Something Rotten!, the musical farce now appearing at the National Theatre, which provides a rip-roaring, laugh-out-loud night of entertainment that will make even non-musical fans rejoice.
Opening with the cheeky “Welcome to the Renaissance,” Something Rotten! takes us on a journey to London in the 1590s, where writers like Christopher Marlowe, John Webster and Ben Jonson are treated like the Beyoncé and LeBron James of today. And the man who rises above all else is William Shakespeare.
The Bard’s “rock star” popularity sets the comic romp in motion as playwriting brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom continue flopping, growing more and more envious of Shakespeare with every new sonnet that is uttered.
Rob McClure plays Nick, the older Bottom and much more jealous of his one-time friend, “Will.” His hatred is hilariously revealed in the on-the-nose song, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” McClure is ideal as the down-on-his-luck writer who will do anything to get that one hit. Josh Grisetti plays Nigel, the gentler, more poetic of the brothers, who secretly has a fondness for Shakespeare’s writing. The two actors play brilliantly off one other and their contrasting personalities make for an excellent comic team.
Adam Pascal of Rent fame is an absolute delight as the vain, gloating Shakespeare, providing plenty of laughs with his swagger and struts. Pascal is every bit of the rock star he portrays, with incredible vocals on “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard.”
The women of the show get in on the comical action as well. Maggie Lakis is a hoot as Nick’s plucky wife Bea, who sees the ’90s as the beginning of equality for women. Lakis is married to McClure in real life, and the couple’s give-and-take for one another shows through their characters. Autumn Hurlbert is adorable as Portia, the object of Nigel’s affection, who wows with the song, “I Love the Way.”
The show is filled with one scene stealer after the next, and just when you think things couldn’t get more absurd, along comes a song about omelets or the Black Plague.
Blake Hammond is absolutely fabulous as Nostradamus (no, not that one, his nephew Thomas!), a soothsayer whose prophesies of “Theater Future” conjure up laugh after laugh. Scott Cote is mirthful as a closet-case Puritan named Brother Jeremiah who tries to rid the town of its theatrical dens of iniquity, while equally amusing is Jeff Brooks as Shylock, the Jewish theatre lover who wants desperately to break tradition and be allowed to invest in a show, throwing out Yiddish expressions like candy.
closes February 18, 2018
Details and tickets
Brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote the music and lyrics, while John O’Farrell and Karey penned the book. While it’s akin to great comedy musicals like The Producers and Book of Mormon, I feel it provides even bigger and more consistent laughs.
Casey Nicholaw’s direction and spirited choreography keeps the pace fast and offers a flamboyancy that works wonders. The dance numbers by the ensemble could fit into just about any song-and-dance show playing Broadway today.
Scott Pask’s sets offer a cartoonish version of Elizabethan England, which sets a nice tone, while Gregg Barnes’ costumes are loaded with color (and codpieces!), capturing the Renaissance time period perfectly.
Shakespeare aficionados will appreciate all the references peppered throughout the story and theater fans will equally enjoy all the shout-outs to the best of Broadway over the years—with die-hards getting a bit more of the “hidden” Easter eggs. But one doesn’t need to be a fan of either the Bard or The Great White Way to be tickled by the jokes; it’s just a little something extra for those of us who do.
Something Rotten! . Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. Directed by Casey Nicholaw. Cast: Rob McClure , Adam Pascal, Josh Grisetti , Maggie Lakis, Blake Hammond, Autumn Hurlbert,, Scott Cote, Jeff Brooks, Lucy Anders, Kyle Nicholas Anderson, Kate Bailey, Daniel Beeman, Brandon Bieber, Mandie Black, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Ian Campayno, Drew Franklin, Luke Hamilton, Cameron Hobbs, Patrick John Moran, Joel Newsome, Con O’Shea-Creal, David Rossetti, Kaylin Seckel, Sarah Quinn Taylor, Tonya Thompson and Emily Trumble. Scenic design by Scott Pask; Costumes by Gregg Barnes; Lights by Jeff Croiter; Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Presented at The National Theatre . Reviewed by Keith Loria.