Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Where: St. James Theater, New York, NY
When: Thursday, December 1, 7pm
While no one will ever mistake Something Rotten! as high art, it's one heckuva fun musical that will undoubtedly have you smiling from its opening minutes to its curtain call. The Kirkpatrick siblings Wayne and Karey (who have written music for my favorite current musical group Little Big Town which surprised me) have crafted a cadre of songs that are cleverly staged by director Casey Nicholaw in the grandest of Broadway fashion that make Something Rotten! one of the more enjoyable and whimsical nights that you'll have at the theater...but you've got to see it quickly if you want to see it on Broadway as it's ending its run on January 1.
It's 1595 in London and William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) is the talk of the town, adored by his fans and lauded by his peers -- all of his peers but one. Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) can't stand the prolific Bard. A fellow playwright, Nick is admittedly jealous of Will and the praise heaped upon him, so he decides to visit soothsayer Nostradamus (played by understudy David Hibbard at my performance) to ask him what audiences will be clamoring for in the future. After a fantastical production number in which Nostradamus predicts that the future of theater lies in this thing called "A Musical," Nick sets out to write one of these odd, contrived "musicals" where people just break into song to convey their feelings. What's the focus of Nick's musical, you may ask? Nostradamus predicts that Shakespeare's greatest play will be the epic, deeply moving "Omelette" -- say it out loud...notice any similarity to Shakespeare's "Hamlet?" Yep.
Monty Python-esque in some of its humor (although much better than Spamalot which was a disappointment), Something Rotten succeeds because of its humorous music and lyrics and Casey Nicholaw's direction of said songs. There are several epic production numbers. When "A Musical" is performed towards the beginning of the play during which Nostradamus riffs on a variety of popular theatrical moments from Annie to The Music Man to Rent to Avenue Q (to upwards of fifteen more), I didn't think the production could continue conjuring up the epic enthusiasm present in that showstopper. Fortunately, I was wrong. Towards the end of the second act, we're given another roof-blowing moment in which Nick's "Omelette - The Musical" is staged and it's possibly even more fun than everything that came before it. The play nicely mixes some other musical styles into the mix - a little gospel, some rock, quite a bit of tapping - and Nicholaw keeps the whole thing running at a nice pace (although there were a few lulls here and there, particularly towards the end of the first act).
Unfortunately, the musical's book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell doesn't quite match the fun of the show's songs. Tired jokes about Jews and Puritans and women and homosexuals felt like they were written by folks from the 1960s and come across as sophomoric.. I mean, the uptight Puritans have a repressed homosexuality -- haven't we seen that numerous times before? I'm all for a bawdy joke and I hate the politically correct society in which we currently live, but these jokes were just weak. The play's core relationships work, but many of the side characters -- placed in the play specifically for a humorous effect -- wind up falling flat.
The acting, for the most part, was as solid as they come on Broadway. Rob McClure as Nick Bottom more than held my attention with a nice voice and great comedic timing. John Grisetti as his brother Nigel played nicely off of McClure and Grisetti's secret romance with Puritan Portia (Jenny Hill) led to one of the night's most surprisingly entertaining production numbers. Adam Pascal was also amusingly entertaining as the egotistical ladies' man Shakespeare.
Is Something Rotten! the best thing I've ever seen on Broadway? No. But it's one of the most enjoyable 150 minutes I've spent in a theater. As someone with a degree in English (whose final thesis focused on Shakespeare) and a fan of all types of theater, this musical felt tailor-made for me and it more than exceeded my expectations. Fun all-around and absolutely worth seeing, Something Rotten! is indeed anything but something rotten.