Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of All Shook Up
The musical, which opened in New York two years ago and just closed last month, is set in London in the 1590s toward the end of the Renaissance. The story focuses on two playwrights, brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, and their efforts to match the success of their contemporaryWilliam Shakespeare. Desperate to maintain a patron and to write a hit, Nick secretly consults with a soothsayer to learn both what the next big thing is in theater and what Shakespeare's greatest hit will be. When the soothsayer is a bit off on his prediction regarding "The Bard," and Shakespeare himself seeks to sabotage the new show that the brothers are writing, chaos ensues. In addition, romantic entanglements involving Nick and his wife Bea, and Nigel and the daughter of Puritan Brother Jeremiah further complicate things.
The book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick is comedy gold. It gives The Producers, The Book of Mormon, and Avenue Q a run for their money in regard to funniest shows of this century. Part of the hilarity is that, despite being set over 400 years ago, the show uses a lot of modern language, references (in part due to the soothsaying) and mannerisms. The juxtaposition is quite amusing and makes these long ago characters very relatable. Those that are big fans of either Broadway musicals or Shakespeare will glean extra humor from the proceedings, but it isn't a prerequisite for enjoying the show. A large serving of sexual innuendo is also present (adding to the humor), so this show isn't for little ones. The storytelling is clear and intriguing enough to keep the audience's focus, but it's really the laughs that make it work.
Something Rotten! also boasts a fine score by brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Wayne is a well-known composer for contemporary Christian, country, pop, and rock artists. The songs, like the dialogue, also have modern lyrics and melodies, again creating a funny fit for the material. Whether it is the jazzy uptempo "Right Hand Man" (sung by Bea to her husband Nick), the humorous anthem "God, I Hate Shakespeare," the massive production number "A Musical," or the beautiful and plaintive "To Thine Own Self," the tunes are pleasingly melodic with well-suited (and likewise often very funny) lyrics. "We See the Light" is a humorous gospel-tinged number, and Shakespeare's "Hard to Be the Bard" and "Will Power" are first-rate rock songs in a musical theater setting.
It isn't often that a national tour gets all three leads straight from Broadway, but Something Rotten! supplies just that. As Nick Bottom, Rob McClure (Honeymoon in Vegas, Chaplin) accurately captures the jealously and desperation of a writer out of ideas and worried about supporting his family. He has great stage presence and meets the vocal needs of the role with ease. Josh Grisetti is the perfect balance of adorable optimist and sad sack neurotic, and likewise handles the singing demands very well. In the show, Shakespeare is presented as a rock star, so it's appropriate that Adam Pascal (Rent, Disaster, Aida), one of Broadway's premiere rock voices, would portray the Bard. Pascal captures the pompous yet insecure nature of the character, and gets in on the laughs as well with some silly antics in disguise.
The supporting cast is excellent as well. Maggie Lakis is a spirited Bea, Autumn Hurlbert is a well-suited mix of Kristin Chenoweth and a Disney princess, and both women sing well. Blake Hammond aptly hams it up as Nostradamus, and Scott Cote generates tons of laughter as the repressed Brother Jeremiah. The hardworking ensemble kick up their heels and lend their voices effectively for some excellent choral work.
Casey Nicholaw's skillful direction conveys the serious plight of the characters while maintaining the non-stop comedy of the material. The blocking, tone and transitions are just what the production needs. The ridiculousness of his staging of "Make an Omelette" must be seen to be appreciated. Nicholaw also serves as the choreographer. He has supplied a plethora of large, showstopping production numbers, combining modern moves with Renaissance themes. Also, seeing Adam Pascal tap dance is not something to be missed. Brian P. Kennedy leads a superb sounding orchestra.
Scott Pask's scenic design is varied and fun, often taking on a cartoonish background against the Tudor style buildings. His courtroom set is particularly impressive. The costumes by Gregg Barnes are exaggerated, slightly modern takes on period outfits, keeping in line with the comedic tone of the show. The lighting by Jeff Croiter is professionally rendered and includes a few fun effects.
Broadway in Cincinnati is offering some great deals on seats for Something Rotten! , and local audiences shouldn't miss the opportunity to catch this show in all its Broadway glory. Hilarious, tuneful, original, and splendidly performed are all appropriate ways to describe the show, even though such descriptions can't match the wordplay or beauty of one of Shakespeare's sonnets.
Something Rotten! continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through March 5, 2017. Tickets can be ordered by calling 800-294-1816. For more information on the tour, visit www.rottenbroadway.com.