BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN at Starlight Theatre
Dust off your willing suspension of disbelief. Starlight Theatre transforms into Elizabethan London in the year 1595. The play is "Something Rotten." William Shakespeare has not authored his 38 famous plays and 150 sonnets. By masquerading as patron to the struggling Bottom Brothers from Cornwall, the Bard has purloined their ideas and most of their dialog lock, stock, and couplet.
Conjecture about Shakespeare's authorship surged and likely suspects advanced even before the Bard's death in 1616 at age 52. Likely suspects for the real Shakespeare have included Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon. But the Bottom Brothers? Really? And that is the more than slightly wacky notion behind this 2015 Broadway crowd pleaser "Something Rotten" which continues through Sunday at Swope Park.
"Something Rotten" ran 745 performances on Broadway and closed on New Year's Day 2017. If this touring production, seems unusually sharp, that could be because it features most of the closing Broadway cast. These guys had so much fun with "Something Rotten," they packed it up, and took it on the road.
Dig out your tap shoes and polish up your funny bone. Sit back and giggle. "Something Rotten" is unabashedly derivative. It is a love letter to Shakespeare and to Broadway musicals. It features two Busby Berkley worthy Honest-to-God showstoppers; "A Musical" and "Make an Omelet."
Lots of "Something Rotten" is deliberately corny and punny and tap dancey, but I have not been so thoroughly entertained in a long time. I guess it shows that my sophistication quotient is stored discreetly in my whoopee cushion. I like it.
Desperate for a hit, show businessy Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and his earnest brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti) search alternately for truth in life and/or ticket sales. Nigel falls in love with a Puritan blondie named Portia (Autumn Hurlbert). Nick's sharp-as-a-tack pregnant bride Bea (Maggie Lakis) sees the family's desperate financial situation and demands to take in work and help. "It is the 90s," she proclaims in "Right Hand Man." Nick cannot accept the idea and searches for an alternative. He blames his competitor for his trouble with "I Hate Shakespeare" a memorable musical rant.
Meanwhile back on the West End Avenue, Nick is threatened alternately by his patron, the disguised Shakespeare (Adam Pascal), and his Jewish banker Shylock (Jeff Brooks). Shylock offers to forgive Nick's debt if Nick allows him to become a partner. Too bad, Jews are restricted from most jobs at the time. Nick must come up with another idea and fast.
He decides to consult a soothsayer - a fortuneteller. His first stop at a sayer of sooth's shop is cut short by a note on the door that complains it has been closed by unforeseen circumstances.
Second choice is Nostradamus - no not that Nostradamus. This is Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), a nephew to the French guy. He does see things, if through a bit of a cracked lens. In this case, he convinces Nick he should consider a new kind of play. How about a musical where the songs advance the plot?
This is where the show really takes off and never lands. There are more funny allusions to musical shows of the next three hundred years than a retrospective at the Tony Awards. Some of them you get - Others fly on by. It is like watching an Elizabethan Henny Youngman throwing out one-liners. Their first idea for a show subject is the "Black Death." Close, but no cigar.
Back to Shakespeare! The real man was a little pudgy and bald. This Shakespeare is a blond, nasty, literal rock star who presides over a rave. If this sounds a little bit like Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, you've got the idea. It is the kind of creative anachronism you enjoyed in "A Knight's Tale" with the late Heath Ledger.
Of course, the Bottom Brothers run afoul of the law and the church. They and their backers get a choice between beheading and transportation to the new world. Maybe banishment is the better option. Maybe there is a place where true love lives, land for family cottages can be had, musicals have a chance for success, and Jews can become part of the financial backing of show business. Who knew?
The language for this one is relatively mild. The double and triple entendres should not offend many, but they are there. Think of the mildly sexy jokes, you might see on a TV sitcom.
Take a notebook. Keep track of all the show biz allusions. Smile. Don't miss "Something Rotten" at Starlight Theatre. If you have a humorous bone somewhere other than your elbow, you will like this one. Tickets are available at the Starlight website or by telephone at 816-363-7827. To steal a line from "Kiss Me Kate," "Brush Up Your Shakespeare And We'll All Kow Tow."
Photo provided by Starlight Theatre