Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set during the English Renaissance of the 1590s, the plot follows brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, respectively), whose theatrical company has hit rough times as they can't compete with the continued success of Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). Shakespeare is a megastar, loved by many, including Nigel, and loathed by just a few, including Nick. So Nick visits a soothsayer, aptly named Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), and pays him to tell him what the next big thing in theater will be, thinking he will finally find success.
Something Rotten! features extremely clever lyrics and upbeat music by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and a fast-paced book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick that manages to incorporate not only hilarious shout outs to just about every famous musical of the past 100 years but also a slightly serious focus on the role of women in England at that time. It may owe a debt to The Producers, which also is a whacky showbiz comedy with crazy characters and a big heart, but the fact that it's entirely original, with a plot that goes in surprising directions, and has a very tuneful score actually makes it that much more of a successful achievement.
The three male leads, McClure, Grisetti and Pascal, all played these parts in the Broadway production as replacements, so they are finely adept in the requirements necessary to deliver well-rounded performances. McClure is quite good in the "straight man" role of the practical brother who feels he is at wit's end and has to do something desperate in order to care for his family. Grisetti does well as the sensitive brother who loves poetry and often finds himself nervous and anxious. Pascal revels in the rock start status of Shakespeare, but also allows us to glimpse inside his human side to see the extreme difficulties that being Shakespeare entails.
Hammond is an absolute hoot as the soothsayer who may or may not actually know what he's doing. His frequent outbursts and well-honed comic delivery achieves some big laughs. His performance of "A Musical," which is both a love fest to and parody of musical theatre that any fan will truly appreciate, is exceptional. Maggie Lakis (McClure's real-life wife) is feisty, spunky and serious as Nick's wife Bea, who believes that women should be able to do the same things as men, and Autumn Hurlbert is flighty and fun, and a little ditzy, as Portia, the Puritan girl who loves poetry and falls for Nigel, but whose father is Brother Jeremiah who condones the Arts. Scott Cote and Jeff Brooks provide humorous support as, respectively, Jeremiah and Shylock, the Jewish money lender who desperately wants to be a part of the theatre world.
Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw ensures the comic moments shine but doesn't shy away from the few sweet, serious and romantic moments in the plot. His choreography provides a nonstop flow of fun and varied steps, including some incredible tap sequences that the hardworking ensemble delivers superbly. Scott Pask's scenic elements are slightly pared down from his Broadway designs but still manage to provide fun visuals and quickly and efficiently sets the location of each scene. Gregg Barnes' detailed and colorful costumes are exceptional.
In a sea of serious original musicals and shows that are adaptations from other sources, you have to hand it to the three creators of Something Rotten! for coming up with an original comedy that is extremely hilarious but also touches upon some serious topics. While there are numerous memorable comical songs in the show, the sweet "To Thine Own Self" is a satisfying reminder to always be true to yourself and not let success go to your head. You will definitely remember the adept parody and humor, but the exceptional touring cast and succinct direction will guarantee you don't forget this very important and simple piece of advice that's the key to both personal and professional success.
Something Rotten! runs through November 5th, 2017, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.rottenbroadway.com.
Book by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick