BWW Reviews: SOMETHING ROTTEN! This Way Comes
Broadway's great director/choreographers like Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse are naturally best known for their legendary dances, but, without knocking the man's terpsichorean prowess, director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw is developing a more solid rep for being the one who knows how to deliver the funny.
At least partially responsible for making Elf, the musical better than it had any business being, Nicholaw's flair for the George Abbott style of character-driven fast, loud and funny nights out is currently represented by The Book of Mormon, Aladdin and now, his best to date, Something Rotten!.
Of course, the authors also have a bit to do with the uproarious success of this brand spanking new musical comedy set in an Elizabethan time with a present-day sensibility. Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell's book centers on Nick and Nigel Bottom, a sibling team of unsuccessful 16th Century playwrights who try to outdo Shakespeare by writing the world's first musical (a soothsayer told them musicals would be all the rage in the future), a plot that serves as a springboard for numerous gags about Broadway classics and plot points that parallel First Folio situations.
Kirkpatrick teams with his brother Wayne to write the light and catchy traditional showtune score. Their songs are full of funny ideas derived from the characters and situations, but the cleverness of their work is pulled down by an abundance of false rhymes. (That lack of craft seems emphasized when a character sings a lyric about her love of perfect rhymes.)
There's appealing TV Variety show slickness to the proceedings, with Nicholaw staging flashy production numbers full of teeth and humor and the cartoon designs of Scott Pask (set) and Gregg Barnes (costumes) embellishing period styles with funny modern touches.
Those outside of Times Square may have only a passing familiarity, if that much, with the names of the leading players, but this is a seriously all-star cast of musical theatre pros, each doing their thing to the merry hilt.
Brian d'Arcy James is a blast as the exasperated Nick; crazy in love with his wife and determined to be a commercial success so he can give her the life she deserves. Heidi Blickenstaff is great fun as Nick's resourceful wife, Bea, who tries getting a job to help lighten Nick's load by, in the great tradition of Shakespearean heroines, disguising herself as a man.
In the glammed-up supporting role of The Bard himself, Christian Borle fills a pair of black leather pants and plays William Shakespeare with rock star swagger and a smarmy attitude. Brad Oscar is a wacky vaudevillian as Nostradamus' less-accurate soothsayer nephew, who leads the company in a rouser quoting the popular musicals that'll hit the stages 400 years hence.
There's a trio of great character clowns in smaller roles - Brooks Ashmanskas as the comically uptight Puritan dad, Peter Bartlett as a jittery arts patron and Gerry Vichi as a loveable Jewish money lender - and the evening is hosted by Michael James Scott's charming and hip strolling minstrel.
Something Rotten! serves as a Broadway debut for all three of its writers and a smashing good time it is. Come back soon. (Just work on that rhyming thing first, okay?)