Touring ‘Something Rotten’ is an absolute treat
By Bob Abelman
“Something Rotten!” – which takes place in South London in 1595, opened on Broadway in 2015 and is currently on tour and on stage at Playhouse Square – puts to rest the long-standing debate about who actually wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare.
Rumors have long suggested that the author is either or a combination of playwright Christopher Marlowe, essayist Francis Bacon, dramatist George Peele, adventurer Walter Raleigh, William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, or the cultured aristocrat Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
We now know that the plagiarizing Shakespeare got all of his best ideas from the Bottom Brothers, the two down-on-their-luck playwrights featured in the deceptively smart and absolutely shameless spoof written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell.
Astoundingly hummable music and hilarious lyrics – starting with the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” – are written by Kirkpatrick and his brother Wayne.
“Something Rotten!” revolves around the earnest Nick Bottom (brilliantly handled by Rob McClure), who hates Shakespeare as much for his thievery as his rock star reputation among adoring theatergoers, and the pathologically naïve Nigel Bottom (a thoroughly endearing Josh Grisetti).
The two underdog playwrights hire a bargain-basement soothsayer named Thomas Nostradamus (an absolutely hysterical Blake Hammond) to look into the future so they can claim Shakespeare’s most popular play as their own. Nostradamus picks up pieces and parts of “Hamlet” but also discovers an art form that will take the world by storm – the musical – where singing and dancing replaces dialogue and overpriced drinks can be purchased in a lobby. His vision provides random insights into showgirls, chorus lines and pieces and parts of various hit musicals, all of which become part of their finished production, called “Omelette.”
The first act of “Something Rotten!” supplies the huge set up for the hilarious musical theater mash-up number from “Omelette,” performed in the second act.
As Will Shakespeare, Adam Pascal (of “Rent” fame) serves up his still-standing rock ‘n roll vocals with a Keith Richard’s ultra-cool demeanor and swollen sense of self. The contrived origins of Shakespeare’s most famous lines are ingenious.
The touring production also possesses the exceptional talents of Maggie Lakis as Bea, Nick’s headstrong wife; the adorable Autumn Hurlbert as Portia, Nigel’s puritan love interest; and Scott Cote as Portia’s father, who is also a closeted leader of a puritan sect. Some very funny one-liners are also provided by Jeff Brooks as Shylock.
An extraordinarily talented ensemble fills the stage and does so with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm and Monty Pythonian/Mel Brooksian flair necessary to support such enchanting inanity.
All this is directed/choreographed with witty and reckless abandon by Casey Nicholaw, who won a 2011 Tony Award for his work on the perfectly irreverent and hugely successful “The Book of Mormon.”
Broadway production designers Scott Pask (scenic), Gregg Barnes (costume), Jeff Croiter (lighting) and Peter Hylenski (sound) create a Stratford-on-Avon that looks like a colorful, overstuffed pop-up book, built for sight gags and jaw-dropping production numbers.
“Something Rotten!” is the kind of big, boisterous and brassy musical theatergoers think about when the word “Broadway” is mentioned. This tour meets all expectations and is an absolute treat to watch. CV
WHAT: “Something Rotten!”
WHERE: Connor Palace Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
WHEN: Through May 14
TICKETS & INFO: $10 – $95, call 216-241-6000or visit playhousesquare.com
Bob Abelman covers theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman.3.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on April 28, 2017.
Lead image: From left front, Josh Grisetti as Nigel, Rob McClure as Nick, and the ensemble of “Something Rotten!” Photo / Jeremy Daniel