It is called musical comedy, but you can count on two hands the number of shows that are genuinely funny. Something Rotten!, a stew of Elizabethan foolishness, is certainly one of them.
Where most new musicals these days are based on movies, Something Rotten! is an original story and its premise should get you giggling quickly. It concerns the Bottom brothers – Nick and Nigel – who yearn to get a toehold in show business as playwrights, but that darned William Shakespeare is grabbing all the attention and investors. So Nick secretly consults with a soothsayer named Nostradamus (No, not THE Nostradamus, but his nephew Thomas) to learn what the next big thing in theater will be.
He learns that it is the insertion of songs – and a little tap dancing – into a plot, what will be called a “musical.” A Musical is also the name of the first act show-stopper that streaks through a dozen or so references to shows – lyrics, tune phrases, bits of choreography – from 500 years after The Bard’s era.
When the Bottoms’ first attempt at a musical proves unsuccessful, Nick (Rob McClure) goes back to Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) and asks him what Shakespeare’s biggest hit play will be, hoping to steal the idea before it occurs to Will. Alas, the soothsayer’s view of the future is somewhat hazy, which leads to a near-miss misunderstanding and an even goofier 11 o’clock production number.
The show is the Broadway debut of brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, who know musicals and just enough of Shakespeare’s canon to sprinkle his theatrical devices throughout the storyline. For instance, Nick’s wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) is an early feminist who frequently dresses up as men to gain employment and, in a climactic court room scene, dons barrister robes and beard to defend Nick, in the style of Merchant of Venice.
Nick is ostensibly the idea man of the brother team, while Nigel (Josh Grisetti) is the poet. His writing attracts the attention of Shakespeare (Adam Pascal), portrayed as a preening rock star and a plagiarist, willing to steal from anyone. Nigel cranks out Shakespearean bon mots, inspired by the comely Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), whose Puritan father wants to keep them apart. And for good measure for measure, there is a stagestruck Jewish character named Shylock, a comic foil.
Scott Pask provides the period sets, all contained within a faux-Globe Theatre and bathed in splashy lighting by Jeff Croiter. But it is the costume designs by Gregg Barnes that are the standout, notably in the second act show-within-the-show.
The Kirkpatricks’ score is sprightly, humorously heightened by the savvy direction and choreography of Casey Nicholaw. Either he found performers very similar to his original Broadway cast or he took great pains to direct them into similar performances. In any event, this is a national tour that is the near equal of what was on Broadway, and an amusing audience-friendly show that ends well the Kravis season.
SOMETHING ROTTEN!, Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, May 6. $28-$76. 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.