Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Something Rotten!
National Tour
Review by Josh Garstka

Also see Cindy's review of A Doll's House


Rob McClure and Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
Put your hands up for the one, the only ... William Shakespeare? He struts on stage in tight leather pants, and his fans go wild. "Shall I compare thee—" he calls out, and his audience claps back, "—to a summer's day!" He's the Mick Jagger of the Elizabethan age, a suave glam-rocker who improvises great lines like "If music be the food of love, play on" on the spot. As the "man who put the 'I am' in iambic pentameter," Adam Pascal has the star presence and camp to put over the self-adoring Bard, and he evokes Jagger and David Bowie with that gravelly rock voice of Rent fame.

Shakespeare's entrance gives a jolt of anarchy to Something Rotten!, the 2015 musical direct from Broadway that launched its national tour here in Boston this week. The creators—brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick on music and lyrics, and Karey and John O'Farrell writing the book—have conceived a laugh-a-minute evening that skewers Shakespeare while referencing nearly every hit Broadway musical in recent memory. The writers boast Grammy-winning country songs, hit children's films, and comic novels among them, but this is their first stab at writing musical theater. As their debut musical, Something Rotten! feels like the giddy work of ardent fans who always dreamed of writing a big hit show.

The year is 1595. The brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom are struggling playwrights, perpetually stuck at second-tier while Shakespeare plays Romeo and Juliet to packed houses. When Nick's wife Bea searches for a job to support them, Nick decides to gamble their savings on a soothsayer. The sage he finds—Nostradamus—tells Nick he can see into the future and divine exactly what the Bard is writing next. It's the greatest play in theater history, he claims, and so Nick decides then and there to steal Shakespeare's idea for himself. And the name of that great Shakespearean masterpiece? Omelette. (Say it out loud.)

And that's not all! "In the future," Nostradamus envisions, "the biggest, most fantastic thing in the theater will be—musicals!" Cue a major production number with impromptu chorus, triumphant kick line, and countless references to musicals from A Chorus Lineto Les Misérables. The audience at the performance I attended applauded ecstatically, just as the sage predicted. From here, the Bottom brothers proceed to write and stage Omelette: The Musical, an outlandishly terrible coup de théâtre that makes The Producers' "Springtime for Hitler" look like a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Rob McClure carries the show on his back as lead Nick Bottom. McClure has a scrappy, infectious energy that's compelling to watch even as Nick succumbs to his worst instincts. (He's also the clear winner in a tap battle with Pascal.) As his brother, Josh Grisetti makes a sweet and awkward Nigel, and he brings the show the closest it comes to genuine feeling. Their partners—Nick's wife Bea, played by Maggie Lakis, and Nigel's lover Portia, played by Autumn Hurlbert#151;are mostly written as commentary on how depressing Elizabethan life was for women. The actresses compensate with highly caffeinated performances that push hard for laughs.

You don't have to be Nostradamus to see the jokes coming. Often Something Rotten! feels like a long "Saturday Night Live" sketch, though with polish and style from director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Following his successes with The Book of Mormon and Spamalot, Nicholaw has become the king of self-referential musical comedies. The music is mostly there to support the lyrics, and the humor favors crude for crude's sake, like in the song "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top." You can imagine how many one-liners hinge on the Bottoms' name.

Still, the real playwright was never one to resist a lewd pun, and this show is proudly inspired by the Bard's bawdy quill. It's admirable just how many gags based on actual Shakespeare lines earn hearty laughter. Even in Something Rotten!, William Shakespeare is the star of the show. As the lyric colloquially states, "the man knows how to write a bitchin' play!"

The national tour of Something Rotten! is presented by Broadway in Boston through January 29, 2017, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA. Tickets are sold at BroadwayInBoston.com, through Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, and at the Boston Opera House Box Office during normal business hours. For more information on the tour, visit www.rottenbroadway.com.

Cast:
Rob McClure: Nick Bottom
Adam Pascal: Shakespeare
Josh Grisetti: Nigel Bottom
Maggie Lakis: Bea
Blake Hammond: Nostradamus
Autumn Hurlbert: Portia
Scott Cote: Brother Jeremiah
Jef Brooks: Shylock
Ensemble: Lucy Anders, Kyle Nicholas Anderson, Daniel Beeman, Mandie Black, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Pierce Cassedy, Drew Franklin, Juliane Godfrey, Leah Hofmann, Kristie Kerwin, Ralph Meitzer, Patrick John Moran, Joel Newsome, Con O'Shea-Creal, Tonya Thompson
Swings: Kate Bailey, Brandon Bieber, Ian Campayno, Eric Coles

Creative Team:
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell
Music and Lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Director/Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Music Supervisor/Vocal Arrangements: Phil Reno
Music Director/Conductor: Brian P. Kennedy
Scenic Designer: Scott Pask
Costume Designer: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Designer: Peter Hylenski
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Hair Design: Josh Marquette
Music Arranger: Glen Kelly
Production Stage Manager: Jeff Norman
Stage Manager: Matt Schreiber
Assistant Stage Manager: Brae Singleton
Associate Director: Steve Bebout
Associate Choreographer: Eric Giancola
Music Coordinator: John Miller


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