Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Something Rotten!
National Tour
Review by John Olson | Season Schedule

Also see John's reviews of The Bridges of Madison County and Ah, Wilderness!

Rob McClure and Adam Pascal
Photo by Joan Marcus
So far, the 21st century has given us a wealth of Broadway musicals that not only exceeded expectations, but succeeded in giving us shows we could scarcely have even imagined. An adult version of "Sesame Street" performed by puppeteers? An expanded "South Park" episode? The first lesbian protagonist? A gentle story of two folk singers set in an Irish pub? And finally, yes, a story of the American Revolution and the early days of our democracy told largely through hip-hop?

In this environment came Something Rotten!, a musical that ran nearly two years on Broadway by merely meeting expectations. That's no small feat—so many new musicals fail to do that. But when you hear about a musical built on the premise of the first musical, written in Shakespeare's time and as a way to compete commercially with the Bard of Avon, what comes to mind? Ironic jokes about Shakespeare's plots and characters? Anachronisms drawing humor from our knowledge of what happened in the 400 years since Shakespeare's time that the characters don't have? Campy in-jokes about musicals and a primer of musical theater history? Yep. That's exactly what we get.

One reason it's not hard to imagine is because we've seen it before. Some of it in Spamalot ("The Song That Goes Like This," "You Can't Succeed on Broadway ..."), some of it in Shakespeare in Love. The premise has a clever twist in the way theatrical brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, trying to compete with the celebrity playwright Will Shakespeare, attempt to predict the next big thing in theatre by hiring a soothsayer who looks into the future and sees the eventual popularity of musical comedy. Asked to foresee Shakespeare's greatest hit, the soothsayer says it will a play entitled Omelet. What do you suppose that leads to? Jokes about eggs? Un huh.

There's another aspect to the expectations of Something Rotten!, though, and that is Casey Nicholaw. Director-choreographer of The Book of Mormon, Disney's Aladdin and The Drowsy Chaperone, the man is perhaps the best showman of the Broadway stage right now and the entertainment value he delivers here meets the high expectations he's earned. Though the jokes in Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell's book may be unsurprising, Nicholaw and company deliver them in great spirits, with inventive performances that find heart and humanity in the characters, even in such a just-for-laughs script. Nicholaw stages terrific production numbers of the songs by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, most notably the compendium of musical theater's greatest hits parodied in "It's a Musical," the song in which soothsayer Nostradamus predicts the new art form and describes it to the Bottoms.

Unquestionably, though, this touring company exceeds big-time in the quality and star power of its cast. As the Bottom brothers, we have enormously appealing performances by Rob McClure as older brother Nick (McClure was a Tony Award nominee for the title role of Chaplin a few years back) and Josh Grisetti (acclaimed for his work in It Shoulda Been You two years ago). And as Shakespeare, no less than Adam Pascal. Yes, the Adam Pascal—the original Roger in Rent and original Radames in Aida, still sounding and looking as good as ever—and fully conveying the rock star persona the writers give him. Also offering powerful support are Broadway veteran Blake Hammond as Nostradamus, Maggie Lakis as Nick's enterprising wife Bea, Autumn Hurlburt as Nigel's love interest Portia, and Jeff Brooks as the first Jewish "angel," named (what else?) Shylock. And, of course, a top-rate ensemble.

I suspect Something Rotten! will be around in various incarnations for many years, but will probably never be done as well again as it is here. If it sounds as appealing to you as it has for the audiences who came to see it on Broadway for two years, catch this tour now.

Something Rotten! will play the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, through July 23, 2017. For tickets or information, visit or call 800-775-2000. For more information on the tour, visit

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