“Something Rotten!” — Only If You Love Sophmoric Humor

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Christian Borle as Shakespeare with his groupies.  Photo by Joan Marcus
Christian Borle as Shakespeare with his groupies. Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 For those who thought Spamalot and The Book of Mormon were too refined and “high culture,” Something Rotten! will be just the musical for you.  For the rest of us, how we react may depend on how many drinks we have had before entering the theater.

Certainly the performances are wonderful, but those who prefer more sophisticated comedy will sometimes wonder why some of the audience is having such a hilarious time.

The concept by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick is to imagine a playwright in Elizabethan England tired of competing against Shakespeare.  Nick Bottom is fed up with the adulation of Shakespeare;  he can’t get his plays produced.  He seeks out a seer — a relative of the great Nostradamus who tells him about this 20th century phenomena of the “musical.” Nick convinces his brother Nigel, who is a Shakespeare “groupie” to write a musical with the help of Thomas Nostradamus  giving them plot details which borrow heavily from plays we now recognize as Shakespeare’s though often wildly misinterpreted. Unfortunately Thomas often doesn’t quite get it right.

All sorts of complications and ruses and some slapstick ensue.  Including their first musical attempt about the black death and their second called “Omelette” which is Nostradamus’ vision of the Danish play.

Christian Borle as Shakespeare. Photo by Joan Marcus
Christian Borle as Shakespeare. Photo by Joan Marcus

But what this show is really about is sending up the Broadway musical, Shakespeare and rock stars –for that is how Shakespeare is portrayed.

If the plot is not that important to the show — do not expect logic or order — what is?  It isn’t really the music and lyrics (by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick).  They provide the audience with a pastiche of musical genres from rap to everything else and the rhymes could have been written by a talented 10th grader.  Sophistication is not their forte.

In fact the entire thing seems like a joke or a spoof put on by Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club. From the deliberately cheesy Elizabethan sets by Scott Pask to the costumes  by Gregg Barnes to the lighting by Jeff Croiter.  You can get the idea just by the names of the two main characters “Bottom”  and by the title of the musical “Omelete.”

The emphasis is on single and double entendres, jokes about sex and sexual organs, and references to Broadway shows that makes Forbidden Broadway seem sophisticated. You can count how many jokes are made about Nick and Nigel’s last name.

Casey Nicholaw, best known for The Book of Mormon, both directs and choreographs.  He keeps things moving which does prevent anyone from thinking too much about what they are seeing.

John Cariani as Nigel Bottom and Kate Reinders as Portia. Photo by Joan Marcus
John Cariani as Nigel Bottom and Kate Reinders as Portia. Photo by Joan Marcus

The best thing about the show is the performances.  Christian Borle gives us an over-the-top imitation of an egotistical rock star in his portrayal of Shakespeare.  Brian d’Arcy James plays the older brother with more seriousness than the part deserves; James is too talented to be wasted in this. John Cariani plays Nigel who adores all things Shakespeare. His is the most realistic and likeable character;  he does not over do it.  Brad Oscar as Thomas Nostradamus, gives a delightful performance and Heidi Blickenstaff has the somewhat thankless role as Bea, Nick’s wife.

As to the music — you will not leave the theater humming any of the songs.  The opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” goes on much too long as do several others. Perhaps the funniest is “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”

Something Rotten! will for some be brilliant and hilarious and for others — myself among them — tedious and sophomoric.  Maybe it is a generational thing, or perhaps some of us like more sophistication and wit in theatrical experiences.

Something Rotten! is at the St. James Theater on W. 44th St. Tickets are available through Telecharge.

Brad Oscar as Thomas Nostradum and Brian d'Arcy James as Nick Bottom. Photo by Joan Marcus
Brad Oscar as Thomas Nostradum and Brian d’Arcy James as Nick Bottom. Photo by Joan Marcus

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