A "Rotten" Review

Actually, "Something Rotten," unlike its title, is a fresh, rousing sendup of Shakespeare's Elizabethan-era genius and the most popular favorites of contemporary musical theater.

It’s tough being a writer, and tougher still when you’re up against the best. With a capital B. As in Bard. THE Bard. Of Stratford. On Avon. You may have heard of him.

Such is the predicament of aspiring Renaissance playwright Nick Bottom, whose competition is the young but soon-to-become most famous English-language writer in history.

So Bottom seeks a shortcut to the top: He consults a clairvoyant to look into the future to see what Will Shakespeare’s greatest work will be, once he really gets rolling. That way Nick can steal the idea in advance.

What a rotten thing to do. But ah, what a great premise for a musical, particularly since the clairvoyant—the nephew of Nostradamus—isn’t quite as competent as his uncle when it comes to nailing down the specifics of the coming attractions. Complications ensue.

Such is the setup for Something Rotten, the Broadway musical that is the latest touring production of the Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando Series at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

You might expect to encounter a bundle of brush-up-your-Shakespeare allusions in this musical, and there are a few of those—starting with the presence of a soothsayer: Remember “Beware the Ides of March?” That warning turned out to be dead on, so to speak, but the Something Rotten forecaster is more of a close-but-no-cigar predictor. His scrambled view of the future results in him mistaking Hamlet for “Omelette” – a prediction that provokes the preemptive plagiarizers, Nick and his brother, Nigel, to create a show better suited for the Cooking Channel than Masterpiece Theater. There are numerous references to other musicals and musical numbers in this show—more on that later—but the one I kept thinking of was “Springtime for Hitler,” the so bad that it was good, over the top musical number in The Producers.

The core of Something Rotten, created by two real-life brothers, Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, are the even more off-base predictions that the myopic clairvoyant comes up with when he tries to look into the even more distant future and starts rattling off predictions about revolutionary theatrical productions called “musicals.” His visions about them are fast, furious, fuzzy and fragmentary. The brothers’ efforts to keep up makes Something Rotten something delightful: a musical about musicals, sophomoric yet sophisticated, filled with who knows how many allusions to musical theater’s greatest shows.

Name your favorite musical and there’s a reference to it, either oblique or in-your-face. It’s in the classic, kick-line and jazz-hands choreography, the dialogue, the costuming, and most obviously, the score. One song alone, an homage-a-thon called, “A Musical,” contains 20 references to specific shows: if you’re keeping score, there are nods in the direction of Avenue Q, The Fantasticks, Les Miserables, Nice Work If You Can Get It, West Side Story, The Music Man, Seussical, South Pacific, Chicago, Evita, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sunday in the Park with George, Annie, Guys and Dolls, Sweet Charity, Hello, Dolly, Cats, Sweeney Todd and A Chorus Line.

This is not just a show, it’s a trivia contest for musical theater lovers, an unabashed and adolescent dopey little love letter and not ashamed to admit it. The ripples of recognition making their way through the audience are part of the fun; the in-on-the-jokes inclusiveness at the happily-ever-after heart of the show.

The touring production—some of whose actors will be celebrating their 500th performance during the course of the Orlando run—is filled with portrayals that match the magic, starting with Nick Rashad Burroughs’ sizzling master-of-ceremonies role as the minstrel and Rob McClure’s duplicitous but likeable turn as Nick Bottom. It may be “Hard to Be the Bard”—a tune that is one of the show’s more clever numbers— but Adam Pascal makes it look easy playing Will Shakespeare as a preening rock star in an oversized codpiece, and Autumn Hurlbert’s vocalizing as Portia anchors a lively score.

Something Rotten had a respectable run on Broadway. I’m thinking it will continue to do even better as a touring show. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to figure that out.

For Something Rotten ticket information, click here.


Categories: Arts Beat