Something simply wonderful about daffy, delightful ‘Something Rotten’ at Marriott Theatre
Scott Weinstein’s fabulously bonkers production of the stage musical is not to be missed.
Imagine, if you will, a vaguely 16th century-era dinner party hosted by Evita from “Evita” and Uncle Scar from “The Lion King,” attended by Shakespeare in a fat suit, a rando barricade boy from “Les Miserables,” a chorine from “Hamilton,” a chimney-sweep from “Mary Poppins” and a cowboy from ‘Annie Get Your Gun.”
Now envision these fever-dream-worthy apparitions, but joined by a carton of tap-dancing eggs trying to escape chefs trying to clobber them with frying pans while someone cries out in anguish such eternally vexing questions as: “How do you solve a problem like Ophelia?” How indeed.
Such is the inspired wackadoodle world of “Something Rotten,” now running in a delightfully bonkers production at the Marriott Theatre, directed by Scott Weinstein.
The musical (conceived by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, book by Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell; music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick) will be a balm for anyone who has ever found Shakespeare “wordy” yet maintains a soft spot for faux-period farces punctuated by aspirationally bulky codpieces and homoerotic Puritan malcontents. Scupper any and all high-brow inhibitions and everybody else will be equally charmed. Such are the berserk pleasures of “Something Rotten.”
The plot is a cleverly stupid (yes, that’s possible) cross between hallucination and history, with an edge of sharp insight knifing up every now and again, such as when local financier Shylock (Steven Strafford) brags that Shakespeare (Adam Jacobs) has made him a character in a play he believes will be titled “Shylock, The Really Nice Jew.” In the retrospect of history, Strafford’s optimistic innocence is funny and a bit heartbreaking.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. “Something Rotten” opens with something wonderful, namely Jonathan Butler Duplessis’ soaring, silky-smooth voice welcoming audiences to the Renaissance, that roughly late-15th to early 17th-century era of glittering innovation in poetry, science, plague, colonization and anti-Semitism. Duplessis’ intro booms with joy, making Britain’s new world order sound like a party you don’t want to miss.
Our heroes are the Bottom brothers Nick (KJ Hippensteel, making feckless and frustrated somehow likeable) and Nigel (Alex Goodrich as the most loveable doofus you’ll ever encounter on stage). The Bottoms are broke, aspiring playwrights, struggling to snare a piece of the spotlight so obnoxiously hogged by the Bard, who Jacobs turns into a Tudor-era Axl Rose.
While the Bottoms struggle to keep house and hearth together, Shakespeare prances about trailed by a battalion of fan-boys in puffy shirts and leather pants tighter than tattoos. While Will makes the ladies swoon with mega-hits like the 18th Sonnet, Nick Bottom enacts a desperate scheme.
He goes to local soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (Ross Lehman, daffy and oddly endearing as a namesake lesser cousin of the 16th century’s Miss Cleo). T. Nos is not without some fractured fortune-telling abilities. He predicts Shakepeare’s greatest work will be “Omelet,” a breakfast-themed musical drama of fratricide and Danish pastries, heavy on the egg metaphors. Nick and Nigel set out to write it.
As the ill-advised, completely cracked “Omelet” moves toward tech rehearsal, Nick’s resourceful wife Bea (Cassie Slater, who deserves more stage time and solos), proves to have the brains and the integrity in the family, because of course, she does. Bea excepted, everyone on stage is ridiculous, including Portia (Rebecca Hurd, finding the sweet spot between lunacy and literature), a winsome Puritan lass moved to shuddering paroxysms of joy by a rigorous iambic pentameter.
Weinstein’s comically gifted leads sometimes milk the comic bits a shade too long. There’s precious little distance between broad comedy and over-the-top yukking-it-up, and the cast sometimes strays into the latter’s airspace. That’s relatively minor, especially when you lean into that score, impeccably rendered under music director Ryan T. Nelson.
Jacobs’ growling “Will Power” is a ferociously pandering crowd-pleaser. Ditto the all-ensemble “It’s Eggs!,” which peaks when a faceless ova unleashes the power-iest power notes in the power-iest power ballad from “Dream Girls.” Trust when I tell you this egg is Not. Going. It’s brilliant.
Then there’s Hippensteel and Lehman as Nick and Nos, leading the troupe in the show-stopping “A Musical.” The number is a surreal pageant of zaniness, with nods to the stage musical cannon from “Pippin” to “Cats” (with an extra-special shout out to the latter’s ever-elusive Macavity).
“Something Rotten” won’t change your life. It won’t win the Nobel Prize for musicals. But it’ll make you laugh. And really, what else matter sometimes?