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.
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.
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