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Something Rotten!

A cornucopia of double entendres, great songs and boisterous choreography in this hilarious satire of theater in Shakespeare’s time.

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John Cariani and Brian d’Arcy James a Nick and Nigel Bottom in a scene from “Something Rotten!” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus) 

John Cariani and Brian d’Arcy James as Nigel and Niick Bottom in a scene from “Something Rotten!” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Theater know-it-alls will be in bliss as one hilarious allusion to Broadway musicals follows another in the new musical Something Rotten!  The boisterous number, “A Musical” is a veritable thumbnail history of Broadway musical theater, its choreography alluding to at least ten legendary musicals.  And, yes, there is an actual fiddler on the roof!  Nostradamus (not the Nostradamus, but a poor relation manically brought to life by the brilliantly addled Brad Oscar) tells Nick Bottom (Brian d’Arcy James), to write a musical, something unheard of back in the Elizabethan era.  To convince the recalcitrant Bottom, Nostradamus conjures this side-splitting number.

Something Rotten isn’t just for insiders, though.  Its pleasures are multiple:  a divinely hyper cast led by Mr. d’Arcy James, John Cariani (sweet and lovable as Nick Bottom’s feckless younger brother, Nigel) and Christian Borle (manically over the top as a rock star Shakespeare); a fabulously tongue-in-cheek Tudor-ish set and costumes (Scott Pask and Gregg Barnes); a bouncy, funny score (Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick); and the wittiest, non-stop choreography on Broadway (Casey Nicholaw who also directed).  Mr. Nicholaw’s pacing is breathtaking.   It’s almost too exhausting to keep up with the unstoppable cast.

Christian Borle as Shakespeare (center) with Ryan VanDenBoom, Eric Sciotto, Bud Weber and Aleks in Pevec in a scene from “Something Rotten!” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus) 

Christian Borle as Shakespeare (center) with Ryan VanDenBoom, Eric Sciotto, Bud Weber and Aleks Pevec in a scene from “Something Rotten!” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Written by Disney Animation writer Karey Kirkpatrick and United Kingdom best-selling author John O’Farrell, Something Rotten!’s conceit is the mash up Elizabethan England with modern America.  The costumes and sets and characters may be sixteenth century, but the language and jokes are totally modern, including many gay and straight double entendres and with the first number, the anachronistically rocking “Welcome to the Renaissance,” sung by the robust voiced Michael James Scott, the winking tone is set.

“Will Power” places Shakespeare, London’s fair-headed boy, at the center of a cadre of fawning worshippers, with all the necessary Elvis hip gyrations and fainting.  Nick Bottom’s disdainful ditty about Will S.’s annoying popularity, “God I Hate Shakespeare” sets up the story with wit and total lack of subtlety.

John Cariani and Kate Reinders in a scene from “Something Rotten!” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus) 

John Cariani and Kate Reinders in a scene from “Something Rotten!” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Nick and his quieter brother Nigel are about to lose their backer, Lord Clapham (a dryly camp Peter Bartlett).  Nick is forced to steal the meager household savings he and his long-suffering wife Bea, (a rich-voiced, funny Heidi Blickenstaff), have painstakingly put aside to pay for bungling Nostradamus’ advice.  Unfortunately, Nostradamus, asked to predict Shakespeare’s future hits so that Nick can copy them, can’t quite see the name of Shakespeare’s biggest hit, Hamlet.  He comes up with Omelette, instead, the first—and only—musical devoted to eggs.

The plot complications involve an incognito Shakespeare spying on the Bottom’s theater troupe; Nigel falling for the daughter Portia (a lovely Kate Reinders) of Brother Jeremiah, a Puritan theater-hater (Brooks Ashmanskas, in a lip-smackingly side-splitting performance);  and the Jew called—what else?—Shylock (Gerry Vichi, wonderfully world-weary) hoping to defy the law to help out the Bottoms.

Lessons are learned.  Love blossoms.  In the process, the audience gets loads of great music, foot stomping dance and witty dirty jokes.

Casey Nicholaw has done yeoman work keeping this brimful of energy from bursting at the seams.  Something Rotten! is witty fun.

Something Rotten! (through January 1, 2017)

St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.RottenBroadway.com

Running time:  two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (356 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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