Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Measure for Measure
Something Rotten! is the brainchild of a trio of first-time theater creators: screenplay and songwriter Karey Fitzpatrick, songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick (Grammy winner for Eric Clapton's hit "Change the World"), and British novelist and screenplay writer John O'Farrell. The brothers Fitzpatrick collaborated on the music and lyrics, while Karey Fitzpatrick and O'Farrell co-authored the show's book. The latter two previously collaborated on the hit animated comedy Chicken Run. A combination of their own talent and the gigantic good fortune to have director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Drowsy Chaperone and Aladdin) put legsand dance shoeson the show, make Something Rotten! more fun than it has any right to be.
The "something" that the title tells us is "rotten" is the state of Denmark, as in the famous line from Hamlet. After an opening number grants us a warm, tongue-in-cheek "Welcome to the Renaissance," we find ourselves in Elizabethan England where we catch our first glimpse of Shakespeare, depicted as a preening rock-star idolized by drooling fans of both sexes. Along with such contemporaries as Christopher Marlow, Thomas Kyd and Ben Johnson, the Bard faces competition from a sad sack pair, the brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, who time after time have their work outshone by Shakespeare. Desperate for a hit, Nick turns to Nostradamus (not the famous one, but his nephew Thomas Nostradamus) to find out what kind of show will be the next big thing, for which the public will line up in droves to buy tickets. The soothsayer's answer: musicals!
To explain to Nick Bottom what this crazy, unheard of entertainment is, Nostradamus whips up the riotously staged number, "A Musical," that throws in bits and pieces of all scads of Broadway shows from South Pacific to A Chorus Line to The Lion King. Nick finally gets it, but what should his "musical" be about? If they can predict Shakespeare's next hit, the Bottom boys can scoop the Bard by coming up with the musical version before Shakespeare's original hits the boards. Nostradamus is pressed into service again, but his visions are hazy and his advice is misplaced as well as hilarious.
Meanwhile, Nigel, the younger, more naïve Bottom brother, wants to write pure poetry rather than commercial pap. Nigel and a Puritan girl named Portia meet and are instantly smittenraising the wrath of Portia's father, Puritan leader Brother Jeremiah. Another subplot involves Nick's wife Bea's determination to get a job to help support the family. Nick protests, "None of the other playwrights' wives work", but Portia asserts, "It's the '90s, we have a woman on the throne. By 1600, men and women will be completely equal." Then we have the stagestruck money-lender Shylock, desperate to put money into the Bottom brothers' plays in spite of a ban against Jews as patrons of the arts. Finally, when Shakespeare gets wind of Nick's scheme, he plots to outfox the Bottoms with a scheme of his own. With characters adapting disguises and switching identities, it's a veritable treasure trove of Shakespearean plot devices, used to delirious effect.
This is silly stuff from start to finish, but the sharp, ribald humor of the Kirkpatrick-O'Farrell book, along the lines of Monty Python's Spamalot, and Nicholaw's give-it-all-you-got staging, make it buoyant fun. The score is pleasing, if not particularly memorable. Moreover, the songs work to advance the plot and flesh out charactersjust as Nostradamus tells Nick Bottom songs in musicals doand the staging gives most of the numbers a "stop the show" quality. Shakespeare's two big numbers, "Will Power" and "It's Hard to Be the Bard," replete with a quartet of boy backup dancers, cast light on his enormous ego; "I Love the Way" is a classic meet-cute number for Nigel and Portia; and "To Thine Own Self"borrowing Shakespeare's phraseaffirms Nigel's goodness and integrity.
This national tour has been on the road for fifteen months, but you would never guess that from the freshness of the production and cast. The three leading partsNick Bottom, Nigel Bottom, and Shakespeareare all played by actors who stepped into those roles during the Broadway run, staying on until the show closed New Year's Day, 2017. Unfortunately, two of those actors, Rob McClure (Chaplin,, Honeymoon in Vegas) as Nick Bottom and Adam Pascal (Rent, Aida), did not perform on opening night. Not to worry, understudies Scott Cote (as Nick) and Daniel Beeman (as Shakespeare) were both terrific, strong singers and comic actors, and played their respective roles without a hitch. The third lead, Josh Grisetti as Nigel, was on stage, and gave a delightful performance as Nigel, capturing the naïve innocence of the younger Bottom brother, his gawky mannerisms, and his elation at discovering the joy of being in love.
Autumn Hurlbert is a fetching innocent with a hint of mischief as Portia, and Maggie Lakis displays comic chops and a strong belting voice as pragmatist Bea. Blake Hammond is hilarious as the befuddled seer Nostradamus, and Jeff Brooks is a persuasive theater enthusiast, Shylock as a Venetian by way of Manhattan. Joel Newsome stepped in for Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah, drawing great comic mileage from the parade of double entendres meant to trip the Puritan in his own piety. Nick Rashad Burroughs opens the show as a Minstrel with "Welcome to the Renaissance," reminiscent of the Lead Player opening n Pippin. The entire ensemble is terrific, dancing through Nicholaw's buoyant choreography, singing beautifully and taking on a variety of minor characters with comedy flair. Everyone on stage looks like they are having enormous fun, and the feeling is contagious.
Scott Pask's storybook set designs and Gregg Barnes elaborate faux-Elizabethan costumes greatly add to the humor of Something Rotten!, with enough exaggeration and flourish to convey the send-up tone of the piece, with top notch lighting and sound work by Jeff Croiter and Peter Hylenski. The orchestra, eleven pieces led by music director/conductor Brian P. Kennedy, sounds great, with classic brassy Broadway quality.
Something Rotten! is a show that begs us to love it and, by George, who could resist? It is not any kind of game changer, nor likely to contribute to the Great American Songbook, or annals of great performances in the theater. And it helps to be enough of a theater insider to catch all the pokes at other musicals, recent and past. It is totally fun, a great time at the theater for those who love lively, wittily staged production numbers, crowd-pleasing performances, and the strenuous exercise that comes from two solid hours of laughing.
Something Rotten!, through April 8, 2018 at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $39.00 - $145.00. For information and tickets call 800-982-2787 or go to hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit rottenbroadway.com.
Book: Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell; Music and Lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick; Director and Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw; Scenic Design: Scott Pask; Costume Design: Gregg Barnes; Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter; Sound Design: Peter Hylenski; Hair Design: Josh Marquette; Makeup Design: Milagros Medina-Cerdeira; Casting: Telsey + Company, Cesar A. Rocha, CSA; Production Stage Manager: Jeff Norman; Associate Director: Steve Bebout; Associate Choreographer: Eric Giancola; Music Director and Conductor: Brian P. Kennedy; Associate Producer: Lucas McMahon; Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements: Phil Reno; Music Arrangements: Glen Kelly; Music Orchestrations: Larry Hochman; Music Coordinator: John Miller.
Cast: Kyle Nicholas Anderson (Tom Snout), Daniel Beeman (Yorick/Shakespeare's Valet), Jeff Brooks (Shylock), Nick Rashad Burroughs (Minstrel/Snug), Scott Cote (Brother Jeremiah), Josh Grisetti (Nigel Bottom), Blake Hammond (Nostradamus), Autumn Hurlbert (Portia), Maggie Lakis (Bea), Rob McClure (Nick Bottom), Patrick John Moran (Francis Flute), Tony Neidenbach (Peter Quince), Joel Newsome (Lord Clapham/Eyepatch Man), Adam Pascal (Shakespeare), David Rossetti (Robin).
Ensemble: Lucy Anders, Kyle Nicholas Anderson, Daniel Beeman, Mandie Black, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Drew Franklin, Luke Hamilton, Patrick John Moran, Tony Neidenbach, Joel Newsome, David Rossetti, Kaylin Seckel, Sarah Quinn Taylor, Tonya Thompson, Emily Trumble.