Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
The story follows Nick and Nigel Bottom, a team of playwriting brothers, performed with perfect comedic timing by Broadway veterans Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti. The two are laboring in the shadow of their former troupe member Shakespeare, a fiendishly fun Adam Pascal of Rent and Aida fame. Nick and Nigel have to come up with a hit before they lose their financial backing, and Nick feels the pressure as he struggles to support both his younger brother and his wife Bea, a delightful Maggie Lakis. In desperation, Nick seeks out Thomas Nostradamus, portrayed with hilarious enthusiasm by fellow theatre veteran Blake Hammond. Thomas, nephew of the famous mystic, also has a gift of prophecy that isn't always completely clear or accurate, and he informs Nick that the next big thing will be "A Musical," as illustrated by the standout production number of the show which references almost every modern musical hit imaginable, from A Chorus Line to Les Misérables. Nostradamus's jumbled advice puts Nick on the path to creating a musical that must be seen to be believed.
Casey Nicholaw is in familiar territory. He also directed The Drowsy Chaperone and the currently running Aladdin on Broadway. One cannot help but see the influences of shows like Mormon and Mel Brooks's smash hit The Producers here. The character of Jewish moneylender and producer Shylock, played with gusto by Jeff Brooks, in particular seems to be a character from a Mel Brooks work. Though historically accurate, the plight of this Jew and the jokes about him land a little awkwardly. As choreographer, Mr. Nicholaw provides some of the best tap dancing seen on the stage in some time, particularly a "tap-off" between Shakespeare and Nick in the second act.
Though the story seems formulaic, it is entertaining, funny, and never drags. The book by John O'Farrell is full of witty references and jokes, not all of which were caught by this audience at the performance I attended, but which are so plentiful that there is no shortage of laughter. The book seems a bit too saturated with homosexual insinuations and blatant gay jokes; the innuendo-laden song "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top" is a point of exhaustion on that front.
Music and lyrics provided by real-life brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick are melodic, witty, and memorable, perhaps one of the best new scores I have heard come from Broadway in a while. Wayne Kirkpatrick has a history with catchy tunes, having penned well known hits for the likes of Garth Brooks, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. His foray into musical theatre is a welcome treat. Scenic design by Scott Pask is economical but visually appealing. Gregg Barnes' costume design is inspired and a true highlight of the production, particularly in the musical-within-the-musical, reminiscent of the jaw-droppingly absurd creations in The Producers.
The standout performances belong to Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti as the Bottom brothers. McClure's portrayal of Nick is comedy gold, and his smile is infectious. Josh Grisetti also has amazing comedic timing, reminiscent of a young Don Knotts, with a beautiful voice as well. Maggie Lakis as Nick's wife Bea, and Autumn Hurlbert as Nigel's Puritan love interest Portia give equally comedic and touching performances. Hurlbert reminds me of a young Kristin Chenoweth, ably taking advantage of every opportunity the role affords. Both have beautiful singing voices that make one long for their characters to have been given more time; it is interesting to contemplate the opportunities that would have come in a duet for these two. It would be difficult to go wrong with the bombastic incarnation of William Shakespeare, and Adam Pascal milks it for all it's worth, proving that he definitely has "Will Power." Pascal seems to channel Eddie Izzard in his look, speech and demeanor, an unexpectedly effective choice. Other comedic standouts are Blake Hammond's Nostradamus and Scott Cote's Puritan fanatic, Brother Jeremiah.
With humor and slapstick throughout and even a moral message at the end, Something Rotten! in no way lives up to its name. Though the show is consistently entertaining, the humor relies on the audience's familiarity with Shakespeare and frequently ventures into suggestive territory, making it more suited for adults. If you are a lover of the works of William Shakespeare, the tradition of American musical comedy, or both, you will enjoy Something Rotten!.
Something Rotten! is presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham, NC 27701 through April 9th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at www.DPACnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit rottenbroadway.com.
Book, Music, Lyrics: Karey Kirkpatrick