Something Rotten at the St. James Theatre

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Bryan d'Arcy James and Christian Borie in Something Rotten. Photo © 2015 Joan Marcus.

Bryan d’Arcy James and Christian Borie in Something Rotten. Photo © 2015 Joan Marcus.

Something Rotten at the St. James Theatre

Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
Direction by Casey Nicholaw
Scenic design by Scott Pask
Costume design by Gregg Barnes
Music direction and vocal arrangements by Phil Reno

Brian d’Arcy James, Christian Borle, John Cariani, Heidi Blickenstaff, Brad Oscar, Kate Reinders, e Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Bartlett, Gerry Vichi and Michael James Scott
You’ll get a kick out of Something Rotten if you brush up your Shakespeare once you decide whether you want to be or not to be in attendance. If you get what’s going on in the previous sentences, then Something Rotten may be a show for you. It is packed with inside jokes — Shakespearean jokes, musical theatre jokes, gay jokes, feminist jokes, Jewish jokes, Puritan jokes, rock star jokes, star-crossed lover jokes and some just plain jokes. More than any show in recent memory your enjoyment of Something Rotten depends on where you’re coming from.
At the performance I attended, about ninety percent of the audience was laughing and cheering non-stop. The rest sat applauding politely at the end of songs and scenes with faces not quite as frozen as those after “Springtime for Hitler” in the movie version of The Producers —but close.
Something Rotten is an absurd, tuneful and gay (in every sense of the word) parody. It is intellectual slapstick with some wonderful, energetic singing and dancing performers and performances.

We are aware we’re in Shakespearean England the minute we enter the theatre. The proscenium and front drop are unmistakably Tudor. From the opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance” we know we’re seeing a historical show with a 21st century vibe.

Nick Bottom (Brian d’Arcy James) and his brother Nigel (John Cariani) are playwrights trying to get a show mounted. This is a difficult endeavor given that the cad Will Shakespeare (Christian Borle) rules the theatre world. Nick’s wife (Heidi Blickenstaff) dresses like a man to earn money to try to help him. Shylock (Gerry Vichi) tries to finagle a part in the next show by the Bottom Brothers without much success. In exasperation Nick seeks out Nostradamus (actually Thomas Nostradomus, the real one’s nephew), the soothsayer, (Brad Oscar), who foresees that the next big thing in the theatre is —the musical. Their first big idea is to do a musical about the Black Death. Meanwhile Nigel falls in love with Portia (Kate Reinders), the daughter of the gay Puritan Brother Jeremiah (Brooks Ashmanskas.) The Bottoms eventually decide to do a show with a breakfast theme —first coming up with the name Danish and finally settling for Omelette. Here’s a taste of their show …

NICK BOTTOM: Alas, poor yolk, I know thee well…
Frailty, thy name is egg. How like thee I am. For I am –
what I am, and what I am doth be an illusion…
I dreamed a dream, Horatio. An impossible dream. There were
wheels upon yon dream. And raindrops upon Rosencrantz and
whiskers on his kitten.

HORATIO: What be the meaning of it?
NICK: We’ve got trouble.
HORATIO: Trouble?

Did you catch the allusions to Hamlet, La Cage Aux Folles, Les Miserables, Man of La Mancha, Hamlet (again) The Sound of Music, and The Music Man? (Did I miss anything?) But not all the allusions in the show are verbal. Many are musical, such as the opening to the overture of Gypsy and the clip-clop introduction to “Wells Fargo Wagon” from The Music Man.

You can thank Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell for the witty, but sometimes corny, book and Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick for the hummable music and crafty lyrics. They also conceived the show.

All of the stars of Something Rotten give wonderful performances. Brian D’Arcy James is on the stage practically the entire time as a triple threat singer-dancer-actor. The funniest performance, however, is by Christian Borle as Shakespeare played as a rock idol. Think Elvis and Prince rolled into one with the voice and accent of Ricky Gervais.

The most original bit in the show is a competitive “tap off” between Shakespeare and Nick Bottom. As they challenge each other with words, they tap their tap-shoed feet in the same rhythm as the words.

Scott Pask designed the strong, colorful scenery. The wonderful costumes (with exaggerated codpieces, of course) were by Gregg Barnes. Casey Nicholaw is responsible for both the lively, inventive choreography and direction.

Something Rotten is clever, clever, clever —also silly and entertaining. But all that cleverness wears thin after a while. The stellar performances and tuneful songs save the day. Something Rotten is yet another colorful, tasty-but-empty-calorie musical jelly bean. It will probably be a huge hit.

Christian Borie in Something Rotten. Photo © 2015 Joan Marcus.

Christian Borie in Something Rotten. Photo © 2015 Joan Marcus.


About the author

Nancy Salz

Nancy Salz is a freelance performing arts journalist and the author of Nanny: A Memoir of Love and Secrets (Richard Books, 2014). She lives in New York City and Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

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