Summer Review: 'Something Rotten'
Nancy Sasso Janis
From the minute that the minstrel and the company of 'Something Rotten' opens the very new musical with "Welcome to the Renaissance," the audience knows that they are in for a riotous ride back to South London in 1595. I have never laughed so much as I have at this musical comedy filled with outstanding dancing, strong comic characters in glorious Elizabethan costumes, winks to a slew of Broadway's best musicals and Shakespeare plays (now there's a combination that hasn't been overdone) and well, Brian d'Arcy James and Christian Borle (!)
The premise is that the Bottom brothers are trying to write something to compete with their arch nemesis William Shakespeare, who has attained rock star status. That "something" is foretold in the memorable "A Musical" and performed in "Make an Omelette" that is so bad that it is good.
Mr. Borle plays THE bard in tight leather pants, a ruff and sunglasses and his entrance with his back to the audience nonetheless earns him applause. Shakespeare is portrayed as a villain not above stealing the work of others, but it is hard not to like him as portrayed by this actor with many Broadway credits. He won his first Tony Award for 'Peter and the Starcatcher' and his second for this role. On television he has appeared on "Smash," and both "The Sound of Music Live!" and "Peter Pan Live!" For me he simply is the king of all things, and I was thrilled to be able to see him in this wonderful role. "Hard to be the Bard" is a highlight of a multitude of highlights.
Nick Bottom is played to perfection by the wonderful Brian d'Arcy James. Also a "Smash" alum, he is perhaps best remembered in the title Tony nominated role of 'Shrek the Musical.' His other impressive credits include 'MacBeth,' 'Next to Normal,' and 'The Apple Tree' with Kristen Chenoweth. Nick's younger and slightly nerdy brother Nigel is brought to life by John Cariani; he was totally endearing as the talented writer who falls in love with the beautiful Puritan named Portia played with spunky grace by Kate Reinders. Brooks Ashmanskas makes the most of his role as her overbearing father Brother Jeremiah.
Matt Allan plays Francis Flute (and Eyepatch Man,) Stacey Todd Holt plays Peter Quince, Austin Lesch is Tom Snout, Brian Shepard is Yorick, Aaron Kaburick is Robin, Dance Captain Eric Giancola is Snug, Peter Bartlett is Lord Clapham /Master of the Justice/Shakespeare's Valet, and Gerry Vichi is Shylock. Can you identify the now classic plays where they have their cameo?
Heidi Blickenstaff plays the strong wife of Nick Bottom, who in true Shakespearean fashion must disguise herself twice to pass as a male. She really shines in her number as a woman in "Right Hand Man." I enjoyed listening to her interview with CT's own Johnny O and recognized the actress on the street as she arrived back at the theater for the evening performance. I told her what a great job she had done at the matinee, despite the sinus issues she had tweeted about, and she was most gracious.
Brad Oscar is at his comedic best as the slightly confused Nostradamus. Perhaps he is simply hard of hearing in his soothsaying, but his predictions certainly move along the plot with plenty of zaniness. Members of the ridiculously talented ensemble step up to play backup boys in the "Will Power" number, the requisite minstrel and a trio of chefs.
Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell wrote this hysterically clever book and Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick wrote the catchy music and lyrics. One could enjoy the musical production numbers by taking the proceedings at face value, but listening close will reward theatergoers with much more of the comedy. Some of it is bawdy in the manner of Shakespeare himself and could conceivably be missed by the young. Casey Nicholaw ('Aladdin') directed and choreographed this piece with a twinkle in his eye and close attention to the comic details. Steve Bebout was associate director and John Macinnis was associate choreographer.
Never have I taken as many notes in the dark as I tried to list all the musicals spoofed along the way. I know that I missed a bunch of them, but I managed to catch 'Avenue Q,' 'Music Man,' 'Seussical,' 'Annie,' 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' 'Sweet Charity,' 'Guys and Dolls,' 'Sound of Music,' 'The Lion King,' 'Chorus Line,' 'Le Miserables' of course, 'Joseph,' 'Dream Girls,' 'West Side Story,' 'Mary Poppins' and 'Cats.' See if you can pick out the ones I couldn't read in my notes.
I loved the beautiful Elizabethan costumes that were light enough to allow for the spirited dancing and the silly show within a show pieces somehow did the same. Hair design by Josh Marquette was equally as impressive. I was not surprised to see that costume designer Gregg Barnes has 'Aladdin' among his extensive credits. Hair design by Josh Marquette (also 'Aladdin') was equally as impressive. The very Tudor scenery designed by Scott Pask and Jeff Croiter ('Newsies') made excellent use of spotlights in his lighting design. Sound designed by Peter Hylenski was excellent. Phil Reno, who conducted this matinee, is credited with music direction and vocal arrangements, while Glen Kelly did the musical arrangements, Larry Hochman the orchestrations, and John Miller was musical coordinator. The professional musicians in the pit orchestra made the bouncy score sound terrific.
With confidence I can say that 'Something Rotten' is something amazing and probably one of the cleverest musicals I have ever seen on Broadway. I am so happy I took advantage of a Broadway Experience trip with the Warner Theatre Center for Arts Education to see this new and very fresh work and I highly recommend a trip to NYC to catch it.