You think Antonio Salieri had trouble competing with that wunderkind composer Mozart in Amadeus? That was nothing compared with the woes of Nick and Nigel Bottom, two Elizabethan playwrights stymied by the skill and acclaim of rock star wordsmith William Shakespeare in the cleverly comic musical, Something Rotten!, at the Broward Center through April 2.
Imagine the chutzpah of debuting Broadway writers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, giving their show a title that dissatisfied critics could throw back in their faces. Fortunately, what they created is a giddy farce, chock full of comic references to the Bard’s plays and sonnets, and even more jokes about the curious conventions of musical theater.
It is little wonder that Something Rotten! ran almost two years on Broadway as a bona fide audience pleaser. And after closing at the beginning of this year, many of those cast members signed on for the national tour, resulting in a better-than-usual road show facsimile of the New York production.
Something Rotten! joins the ranks of The Producers and The Book of Mormon as a musical comedy that is genuinely funny. And like those two blockbuster hit shows, it takes delight in lampooning other musicals – from Les Miserables to Cats – while simultaneously celebrating the genre.
You see, Nick Bottom – the brains, if not the talent, of the brother duo – desperate for a hit play, goes to a soothsayer to learn what the next big thing in the theater will be. As improbable as it sounds, he is told that in the future songs will be inserted into stage shows, as well as superfluous dance and kick lines of showgirls.
About a half hour into the first act, soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus – the nephew of the more famous fortune teller – leads the company in a rousing meta number that envisions this theatrical breakthrough, with tongue-in-cheek snippets from Broadway’s annals. In hindsight, nothing else in Something Rotten! lives up to this genuine showstopper, but there is still plenty that amuses.
After a disastrous first attempt at writing a musical about the black plague, Nick asks Nostradamus what Shakespeare’s most popular play will be. Alas, the soothsayer’s view of the future is foggy, leading Nick to write a musical called Omelet! So close to the right title.
Meanwhile, Nigel is churning out love poems and a play about a forlorn Danish prince with suicidal tendencies. So a preening, self-absorbed Shakespeare tries his best to steal the manuscript and produce it as his own.
OK, so much of Something Rotten’s humor is sophomoric, but that is essentially its appeal. And as directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (Spamalot, Mormon), you wouldn’t want it any other way.
As Nick Bottom, Rob McClure is a study in agitation and exasperation, as well as an accomplished song-and-dance man. Josh Grisetti’s Nigel is the emotional center of the show, having found love in a blonde named Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), who is unfortunately the daughter of a staunchly anti-theater Puritanical party pooper.
Nick’s wife (Maggie Lakis) is an anachronistic liberated woman, a very ’90s gal – right, the 1590s – who takes on various male-oriented jobs while dressed as a guy in the Shakespearean tradition. Adam Pascal has some delicious Mick Jagger moves as narcissistic Shakespeare, Blake Hammond scores comedically with the soothsayer’s schtick and there are plenty of other supporting baggy doublet characters.
Of the top-drawer design elements, Gregg Barnes’ costumes stand out, most notably the dancing eggs and omelets. Something Rotten! is aimed at those in a mood to laugh, with little redeeming value beyond that. And if you do not begin in that mood, chances are this show will transport you there.
SOMETHING ROTTEN!, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Continuing through Sunday, April 2. $30-$105. Call: 954-462-0222.