Something Rotten is the loving roast master of Broadway. Set in Renaissance England, it’s a play about playwrights, specifically about a bard who’s jealous of The Bard. And it’s the funniest musical farce I’ve ever seen not named The Book of Mormon.
The national tour debuted made its Atlanta debut at the Fox Theatre last night with several cast members from the Broadway stage.
Nick Bottom (played last night by understudy Scott Cote) is wildly jealous of everyone’s favorite writer, William Shakespeare (Tony nominee Adam Pascal), who got his start as an actor in Nick’s troupe. His brother and writing partner, Nigel (Josh Grisetti)—a hopelessly, awkwardly romantic poet—adores Shakespeare’s plays. But pressure is mounting as their patron demands a new idea. The Bottom Brothers have had to scrap their Richard II play when they learn Shakespeare has a similar play in the works, and Nick’s supportive, optimistic wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) has resorted to collecting cabbage thrown at debtors in the stocks.
Nick takes the last of his savings to soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) in order to discover the next big thing in theatre. Hammond is a riot as he gleans glimpses from four centuries into the future and the ripe-for-satire world of the musical. What follows is a rapid-fire series of send-ups and in-jokes. It’s like Ready Player One for musical theatre nerds, except funny and more clever, with sly references to Les Miserables, Pippin, Rent, The Lion King, Annie, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Chicago and even The Producers (making it a musical parody of a musical parody at one point). There are also plenty of witty quips for Shakespeare aficionados, as Nick and Nostradamus scramble Hamlet with a parade of Broadway hits for Omelette: The Musical.
For a parody to work, it has to be a strong example of the medium itself, and Something Rotten shines as both a musical and a farce. The opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance,” led by Nick Rashad Burroughs, is a colorful spectacle and immediate attention grabber. “A Musical” is a meta-masterpiece, a showstopper about showstoppers, packed with sly references, and a standout piece on its own. And the Bottom Brothers’ attempts to put on their own 1595 musical, from “Black Death” to “Make an Omelette,” are hysterical.
If the protagonist is going to invent the musical, what better antagonist than a Puritan who hates both music and poetry? Brother Jeremiah (Joel Newsome) is both repressive and repressed, delivering one double-entendre after another as he threatens to shut down the whole operation and have the Bottom Brothers beheaded, all while struggling to contain his poetry-loving daughter Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), who’s fallen for Nigel.
It has all the moving parts, recurring jokes and delightful zaniness you’d want from a farce, and the touring cast—even shuffled around without Rob McClure in the lead role—is fantastic. The women—Lakis and Hurlbert—particularly stand out, despite their under-sized roles. And it’s a joy to get to see Pascal (the original Roger Davis in Rent) ham it up as the rockstar of Stratford-upon-Avon. There’s no drop off in talent from the original version I saw on Broadway.
Something Rotten is the rare musical comedy that lives up to the legendary targets of its satire. If you love musicals, I’ll be surprised if you don’t love this one.