BWW Review: Get Thee to SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Marriott Theatre
Chicagoans, lend me your ears: SOMETHING ROTTEN! has landed in Lincolnshire (the one due north of Chicago, not the one due east of Liverpool), and Marriott Theatre's regional premiere is a must-see for fans of musicals, Shakespeare, and comedy. Nominated for ten Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in 2015, this madcap musical by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O'Farrell, and Wayne Kirkpatrick is in excellent hands with director Scott Weinstein, choreographer Alex Sanchez, and music director Ryan T. Nelson.
Set in the wild theater scene of 1590s London, brothers Nick Bottom (KJ Hippensteel) and Nigel Bottom (Alex Goodrich) struggle to make a living as playwrights in an industry dominated by mega-celebrity William Shakespeare (Adam Jacobs). At his Wit's End, Nick visits a dodgy soothsayer named Nostradamus, the nephew of the famous one (Ross Lehman), who predicts that the next big thing in theater will be musicals and pinpoints the title of Shakespeare's pending masterpiece, "Omelette." The Bottom brothers set off to beat The Bard to the punch by penning the world's first-ever musical, a tale of a tormented prince involving dancing eggs, Danishes, and a plethora of breakfast food.
This premise sets the stage for a ridiculous, ingenious tribute to decades of musical theater history. Lehman's hilariously eccentric Nostradamus continues to assist the Bottom brothers by snatching more glimpses into the future of theater. He foresees stages filled with singing cats, "miserable" musicals that are completely sung through, and even a show all about HAIR. The Act I show-stopping number, "A Musical," and the Act II "Omelette" sequence feature dozens of rapid-fire references to the melodies, lyrics, choreography, and costumes of shows ranging from THE SOUND OF MUSIC to HAMILTON. It's enough to make you wish live theater had a re-wind button, just to go back and catch every single allusion.
Shakespeare aficionados can expect a similar barrage of clever references in the lyrics, book, and character names of SOMETHING ROTTEN!, including Portia, Falstaff, Shylock, and, of course, Nick Bottom. Fair warning: this rock-star version of The Bard is a far cry from the hallowed persona that has evolved through centuries of scholarly reverence. In his first entrance, Adam Jacobs struts down a red carpet, clad in tight leather pants and a gaudy silver doublet, stopping to pose for a Renaissance version of a fan selfie-an artist's sketch with quill and parchment. Playing on the historical fact that playwrights freely borrowed material in the days before copyright laws, Jacobs' Shakespeare shamelessly steals his best-known works from other authors-including Nigel Bottom, the dreamer and poet who, in this telling, is the true author of HAMLET. This irreverent take on a cultural icon, which is likely to offend only the stuffiest of purists, offers a light-hearted avenue for the theater industry to poke fun at itself.
Several other subplots are worth mentioning: first, the love story of Nigel and Portia (Rebecca Hurd), the daughter of a militantly anti-theater, anti-music Puritan preacher with suppressed homoerotic tendencies, Brother Jeremiah (Gene Weygandt). Portia, who harbors a secret obsession with poetry, is swept to new heights of passion by Nigel's romantic verses. Goodrich and Hurd are a fantastic comedic pair, making the most of the endless innuendos in their shared scenes. In contrast to the starry-eyed lovebirds, Nigel and his wife, Bea (Cassie Slater), work to keep their marriage together through financial difficulties, ultimately becoming a stronger team as they learn to rely on each other. Finally, Steven Strafford's Shylock is a memorable supporting character who uses humor to comment on anti-Semitism in Shakespeare's day, a theme that sadly still resonates today.
All that's left to say is... get thee to Marriott Theatre. It doesn't take a soothsayer to predict an evening of laughter and fun at this Renaissance romp.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! plays through October 20 at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL 60069. Tickets range from $50 to $60 and are available at 847.634.0200 or MarriottTheatre.com.
Photo by Liz Lauren
Review by Emily McClanathan