Regional Reviews: Boston
Also see Cindy's review of A Doll's House
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 creatorsbrothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick on music and lyrics, and Karey and John O'Farrell writing the bookhave 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 findsNostradamustells 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 bemusicals!" 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 partnersNick'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.