BWW Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! is Something Absolutely Wonderful
If you take a step back and really think about it, musical theatre is pretty absurd. Actors stop talking and burst into elaborate song and dance numbers, which are often great to watch, but you feel like if aliens landed on Broadway and went to a show, they would have a very strange idea of what human beings are like. That's just one of myriad themes in SOMETHING ROTTEN! Not the part about aliens, but this show is more of a snarky love letter to musical theatre that also happens to contain insanely great song and dance numbers, as well as a few excellent dick jokes. It's something for everyone, and it's a show so layered with inside jokes that it begs to be watched over and over again.
The action takes place in 1595 in England where the two Bottom brothers--Nick and Nigel are doing their best to scratch out a living in the theatre, but this fellow Shakespeare is everyone's favorite and he keeps trampling on their ideas. Nigel is the more poetic of the two brothers, and he thinks Shakespeare is pretty great, whereas Nick's first song is called "God, I Hate Shakespeare". In an act of desperation, Nick takes the family savings and goes to a soothsayer to find out what Shakespeare's greatest play will be so that he can beat him to the punch, but unfortunately for Nick, some of the information the soothsayer gives him seems to have been garbled in the cosmos, and it's not 100% accurate. What the soothsayer does give him that's correct, is the notion of musical theatre, which seems preposterous to a 16th century Englishman. Still, he gamely tries to write a musical about the most important recent news event-- the plague. It's not well-received.
This production is a rare combination of show-stopping musical numbers; layers and layers of jokes; callbacks to nearly every musical ever produced, and fantastic characters and performances. There is just SO MUCH in this show, it's overwhelming at times but it's unique and hilarious in a way that satisfies completely. Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) is the rock god of the day, peacocking around in a shiny gold jacket with four leather clad "bard boys" as his backup dancers.
Great writing is nothing without great performances, however, and the backbone of this show is Rob McClure as Nick Bottom. McClure has been in this role since 2016 on Broadway, and when he's onstage, you can't imagine anyone else in this role. His performance is completely fresh. His character is an everyman, just trying to do the best he can for his wife and brother, but McClure commands the stage every time he on it, while remaining affable and relatable. The other astonishing part of his performance is that his energy never seems to drop. This is a very intense show with many, many over-the-top musical numbers and a tap dancing battle, but McClure is like the Energizer bunny and was even hopping around during the bows.
Josh Grisetti as Nigel Bottom is a sweet, well-meaning poet who falls in love with Portia (Shakespeare: "Great name!") played by Autumn Hurlbert, a Puritan who is under the thumb of her father, Brother Jeremiah. Hurlbert and Grisetti have an adorable courtship revolving around their mutual love of words and reading, and Hurlbert's voice is clear and bright. Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah is just flat out hilarious with double entendres and gestures that seem to hint at a different type of person beneath the Puritan exterior.
Though this is a show that musical theatre nerds and Shakespeare fans will delight in finding endless Easter eggs, it's still a show that anyone with a sense of humor and a love of incredibly catchy songs can enjoy. This touring production is just as good as the Broadway version, and includes costumes that are so intricate and detailed they are a visual feast of brocade, velvet and leather. It's amazing to watch a show that is constantly commenting on itself, and follows all the rules of musical theatre, but that is utterly unique as well. It's unexpected and wonderful.
Something Rotten! runs May 15-20 at Providence Performing Arts Center 220 Weybosset St Providence, Rhode Island 02903 Tickets available at PPACRI.org or by calling (401) 421 - ARTS (2787)