BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! Wows Nashville Audiences During Show's TPAC Run
Nashville audiences have long been noted for their generosity in rewarding performances with a standing ovation - to the point that they have become rather commonplace - but never before have we witnessed a "standing O" at the end of a particularly raucous, thoroughly inspiring and resolutely entertaining musical number. That is, we had never seen it happen until opening night at the conclusion of the rousing and rollicking "A Musical" that comes midway through Act One of Something Rotten!, the uproarious Broadway hit that made its Music City debut at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall on Tuesday evening.
The astounding phenomenon was not a knee-jerk reaction to someone standing up first or any sense of the obligatory. Rather, you could feel the energy moving throughout the house as the number was performed so brilliantly onstage and, if you were paying attention, you could feel it building to the point that audience members simply had to leap to their feet to show their appreciation of a peculiarly American art form, in general, and Something Rotten!, in particular. If you were there, the sense of joie de vivre was palpable from the very first notes of the song and as it was delivered by the remarkable ensemble onstage, the sustained "standing O" only seemed apropos to the moment.
Thoroughly delightful and eminently entertaining, "A Musical" features affectionate nods to some 20 or more legendary musicals, gleefully recalling signature musical motifs from particular songs or lyrics interpolated for maximum impact. If it doesn't make you love musicals at least a little bit more than you did when you walked into the theater, nothing will.
How many times have you experienced something like that? The exhilaration that comes from seeing top-flight actors performing at the very top of their game, the quintessential moment that is the essence of that to which every musical theater creative team aspires. Co-composer - and Nashville's own - Wayne Kirkpatrick, eager to see how his hometown audiences would respond to his first foray into the rarefied world of the Broadway musical, must have been floating on air as the general hubbub of opening night reached its zenith (and remained there) throughout the remainder of the two and a half hours of mirthful merriment and musical effervescence that continued to reverberate throughout the building, sending audiences home on a cloud of pure joy. You really should have been there - it was a night for the history books of musical theater in a city known far and wide for its music.
To put it succinctly: Something Rotten! is a great big hit, the kind of theatrical achievement of showbiz legend and a joyous cavalcade of musical theatre tropes that are rendered herein as if they were something new and unique. Somehow, the highly original show - with Tony Award-nominated music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and his brother Karey Kirkpatrick, and book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick and conceived by the Kirkpatrick brothers - manages to bridge the gap between audience members who thrive on such creativity and artistic achievement and those who tend to disdainfully look down their collective nose at such lighter than air, buoyant entertainment.
A witty and whimsical takeoff on Shakespeare - he's portrayed as a rock star of the Renaissance era and as the bane of the existence of the two Bottom brothers, Nigel and Nick, who are the show's primary protagonists - and the struggle of his contemporaries to compete with his prolific and popular works for the theater, Something Rotten! is rather unique in these days of movies turned into musicals and revivals of classic works by the legendary composers and lyricists of Broadway's golden era. And while it calls upon its forebears to provide musical context and literary references, it's a wholly new story that engages its audiences from the very beginning ("Welcome to the Renaissance") all the way through to the show's finale, set appropriately enough in the New World where the idea of a show in which an actor stops speaking long enough to break into song (which, of course, advances the plot and aids in character development - and there's something called a dance break) is sure to take hold.
Along the way, there's enough spectacle and theatrical wizardry - thanks in large part to the production's exquisite aesthetic design which includes vibrant and colorful scenery by Scott Pask, gorgeous, eye-popping costumes by Gregg Barnes, evocative lighting by Jeff Croiter and all the ancillary accoutrement supplied by more of Broadway's very best - to keep the most ardent of musical theater lovers on the edge of their seats. Plus, the ample irreverence and tongue-in-cheek approach to the material ensures that even the freshest of neophytes will discover much to love about Something Rotten!
Directed with his expected aplomb and obvious love for what he's doing by Tony winner Casey Nicholaw (his resume includes The Book of Mormon, The Drowsy Chaperone, Monty Python's Spamalot), who also supplies the tremendous choreography that makes Something Rotten! more exhilarating than one could possibly hope for, the production that was nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2015 is a love letter to the escapism and sense of wonder that is so much a part of musical theater. If you go to see it, and you certainly should (make no mistake about that), you'll find yourself caught up in the pageantry and pomp of the show to the point that your love of musicals will deepen, your appreciation for the art form heightened by the antics of Nicholaw's superb cast.
With the memorable score, crafted by the brothers Kirkpatrick, and the sharply written book by O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick - which is replete with enough doubles entendre and witty rejoinders to keep your brain whirling throughout - Something Rotten! is sure to one day be considered a musical theater classic on its own astonishing merits, its obvious appreciation of all the remarkable shows that have come before it only underscoring the creative team's love for the very genre it playfully and artfully sends up with its structure.
Led by Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti as Nick and Nigel Bottom, the siblings who find themselves out of the spotlight since the meteoric rise of Shakespeare's (played with sex appeal and bombast by Adam Pascal) star, Nicholaw's talented ensemble bring the show to life with enough energy to power a major metropolitan city! As the two Bottoms struggle to create their own masterpiece (Richard II, plans for which are scrapped when "The Bard" writes his own script about that British monarch after he's already produced Richard III - "Who goes backwards?" Nick implores), we watch their company of actors chew the scenery and act up a veritable storm to bring a new show to life during Elizabethan times. All manner of zany hilarity ensues in the process and McClure and Grisetti keep the action moving along at a fair pace with their commitment to their characters.
Pascal powers his way through the show to leave an indelible mark as The Bard, exuding a sexy sensuality that explains why he's so idolized by his adoring fans. The guy sure knows how to wear a codpiece! His performance of "Will Power," in which he's backed up by four hot boy dancers, serves as the perfect introduction to Shakespeare and his astounding way with words.
While McClure, Grisetti and Pascal definitely have the larger, showier roles in Something Rotten!, they are surrounded by estimable talent in every scene, including the scene-stealing Blake Hammond as Thomas Nostradamus, the soothsaying nephew of the Nostradamus, who foretells of the creation of musical theater; the fey and funny Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah, as a light-in-the-loafers Puritan zealot; the stereotype-defying (or should that be "-defining"?) Jeff Brooks as Shylock; the outlandish Joel Newsome as Lord Clapham, the brother's initial patron; and the showstopping Nick Rashad Burroughs as the minstrel who welcomes us to the Renaissance in the show's opening number.
Maggie Lakis is wonderful as Nick Bottom's loyal and devoted wife, Bea, a proto-feminist centuries ahead of her time, and Autumn Hurlburt is ideal as the object of Nigel's ardor, Portia, the daughter of the closeted Puritan who's trying to shut down every theater in town.
Giving ample support throughout are the remaining members of Nicholaw's all-dancing, all-singing ensemble who portray the various and sundry Renaissance regulars who populate the imaginative world in which the Bottoms and Shakespeare vie for prominence. They sing! They dance! They act! - all while being tremendously, heart-stoppingly watchable. Thanks, Something Rotten! for giving us a chorus of gorgeous girls and handsome boys to keep our attention focused where it needs to be.
Brian P. Kennedy conducts the 15-member orchestra with confidence and a sense of theatrical bravado required - nay, demanded - by such onstage antics, which includes some of Nashville's most talented players in the pit.
Something Rotten! Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell. Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Musical direction by Brian P. Kennedy. Production stage managed by Jeff Norman. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Gregg Barnes. Lighting design by Jeff Croiter. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Hair Design by Josh Marquette. Makeup design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira. Presented by HCA TriStar Broadway at TPAC Series at Andrew Jackson Hall at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. Through Sunday, July 2. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission). For details, go to www.tpac.org.
photos by Jeremy Daniel