Something Rotten! is the Freshest New Musical in Town

Something Rotten! is the Freshest New Musical in Town

Something Rotten! is the opposite of unpleasant. This quick-witted Broadway musical brings audiences back to England circa the 1590s, where two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are trying to salvage their theater company by coming up with an original show that surpasses the success of Will Shakespeare’s latest work. Desperate, Nick takes his and his wife’s savings and spends it on a soothsayer who tells him that the future of popular entertainment lies in musicals (Plays with songs?! Unheard of!) and Shakespeare’s as-of-yet-unwritten hit play, Omelette. (The plot is fuzzy, but it has something to do with ham and danishes…) If Nick can combine these two things into one show, he will be the toast of the town and finally be able to put The Bard in his place.

If only plans ran that smoothly, right?

Because of course things go wrong. People fall in love with people they shouldn’t and a woman disguises herself as a man and one man pretends he’s a woman for a play and another man wears a disguise to trick others and basically every other plot point that pops up in Shakespeare’s plays happens in Something Rotten! because this is the Renaissance, which means every plot twist is new… to the characters.

Even though we’ve all seen these tropes before, they seem fresh in Something Rotten! because they enhance the plot rather then detract from it. A working knowledge of Shakespeare’s works will carry you far, though you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the show. However, there are a lot of references to his characters and plays and it’s always extra fun when you’re able to be in on the jokes. My favorite throwaway line was when Nick warned Shakespeare not to make an ass out of him. (Because Nick’s last name is Bottom… get it?!)

Since Something Rotten! takes place before the advent of modern musicals, the characters are introduced to the genre with the help of Nostradamus (no, not *that* Nostradamus… his nephew, played by the hilarious Brad Oscar). Nostradamus leads the ensemble in a huge production number (“A Musical”) that chronicles what makes a musical a musical. This means paying homage to tons of popular shows with lots of singing about feelings, a kick line, girls with large feather fans and tap dancing. So much tap dancing. “A Musical” is a love letter to musicals—as much as it is an exaggerated wink—and serves as an actual showstopper, as there was a standing ovation after it at the performance I attended. If this number isn’t performed at the Tonys, I will eat one of the ensemble members’ gorgeous Elizabethan hats.

Everything about Something Rotten! is larger than life, especially the codpieces. Will Shakespeare struts around in his spangly neckwear and metallic breeches like he owns the place. As The Bard, Christian Borle plays this Shakespeare’s rockstar mentality to scenery-chewing perfection. Brian d’Arcy James gives a commanding performance as Nick Bottom, the only person in England who hates Shakespeare, as you can surmise from his first big number, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” Watching these two ridiculously talented men butt heads for two acts is a pleasure, but it’s John Cariani as Nigel Bottom who ultimately stole my heart. Nigel’s proclivity for overwhelming himself and his excitement for poems is beyond endearing. Also, Nigel provides an overarching voice of reason when times get rough and apparently is the original author of Hamlet… which is Omelette… which is rotten. But not really. Because there is absolutely nothing rotten about this show.

Something Rotten! is as feel-good as it gets on Broadway this season. To go, or not to go… there is no question. This new musical is now playing in previews at the St. James Theatre and officially opens on April 22nd.

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