Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. With Rob McClure, Josh Grisetti and Adam Pascal. Now through October 1, 2017 at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! is the recent Broadway musical mid-level hit that has a minor Seattle connection…it was supposed to do a pre-Broadway run at the 5th Avenue Theatre in April 2015 but when a Broadway theater opened up, it moved directly to New York instead where it got goodish/mixed reviews and managed to snag 10 Tony nominations (but only one win). It’s the cuter than thou tale of the Bottom Brothers who head their own theater company in 1595 London and who are failing in their competition with the superstar theater maker of that time, William Shakespeare, a one time lowly actor in their troupe who has gone on to fame and fortune. Sweet/shy Nigel is the younger brother and the one with real talent as a writer. Older brother Nick is the leader of the troupe but his desperation to be a success causes frictions with his brother, his wife and his troupe. Nick visits a soothsayer named Nostradamus (a nephew of the famous real seer of the same name) who does seem to have some kind of “gift” for seeing some aspects of the future but from a very skewed perspective. When Nick asks the seer to not only inform him of hot theater trends of the future but to tell him the name and plot of Shakespeare’s biggest hit to come, Nostradamus comes up with “Omelette” instead of “Hamlet” and advises Nick that “musicals” are the wave of the future.
Nick then forces Nigel to write “Omelette” despite the fact that Nigel is working on another project that sounds an awful lot like the plot of “Hamlet”. Meanwhile, Shakespeare is suspicious of the Bottom Brothers and infiltrates their troupe in disguise to get intel on what they’re working on; it seems that Shakespeare is actually a bit of a fraud and not above purloining the ideas of others, including the talented words of Nigel. Naturally, the proceedings include a love interest for Nigel, the daughter of a Puritan preacher who opposes theater and the inevitable production of the disastrous “Omelette: The Musical” which includes more egg puns than an episode of the 1960s Batman TV show.
Something Rotten! is a cute show with a novel premise. There are some funny jokes and clever songs. It makes zero effort to be historically accurate about Shakespeare or this period of history; it’s an old school silly musical that really feels a lot like one of the big production number/mini-musical spoofs that TV variety shows like The Carol Burnett Show used to do with the entire cast, guest stars and the Ernie Flatt dancers all involved wearing fabulous Bob Mackie costumes. This touring production is well cast with talented actors and its all handsomely designed. If you like very light musical entertainment, you’ll probably enjoy it. But, to be honest, it does seem a tad long at times; after all, those Carol Burnett show mini-musicals were about 20 minutes long. Something Rotten! is two and a half hours long. It feels stretched.
And, while it has some very good numbers (“A Musical”, the big and very clever production number that “predicts” the plots of about 72 future hit Broadway musicals) it also has a clunker or two….like the big production number where they produce “Omelette: The Musical” which desperately wants to be “Springtime for Hitler” the bad musical in a musical number from The Producers, the superior Mel Brooks musical about the making of a bad musical that Something Rotten! desperately wishes it could be.
There’s also a lack of female roles in this show that’s a bit troubling. Nick has a nice wife who is a proto-feminist but she’s underwritten and underused; she feels tacked on. Nigel has a love interest, Portia who is the daughter of a Puritan leader, Brother Jeremiah; she’s a bit more fun and has a tiny bit of depth…but, they could have gone further with her development as a character in my opinion. There are several great comic supporting role in this show but they’re all snagged by men. Why not make the Nostradamus character a woman? Why does Portia’s nasty dad have to be a dad? Couldn’t it be “Sister Jemima”? Why doesn’t Queen Elizabeth have a cameo in this show?
And, changing the Puritan dad to a woman would help with some annoying gay stereotyping in the creation of Brother Jeremiah who’s externally the typical uptight religious bigot character who hates “fun” but is actually secretly and flamboyantly gay complete with swishy mannerisms when he gets carried away with himself. It’s a bit cheap and since this show already used gay/effeminate as a joke with TWO other characters in this show, it’s a bit much. Something Rotten! has three gay male characters referenced in it but one is a cheap quick joke that is never explored but could have been (an actor in the Bottom troupe); one is also thrown away and underused (their patron); and Brother Jeremiah is a creepy hypocritical villain. And, it is possible to utilize femme gay men as humor…but when it’s done JUST for an easy cheap joke and repeated so many times without giving any depth to any of the queer characters, it’s just lazy writing for a contemporary piece of musical theater.
Other than the tired homophobic stereotyping and the fact it’s a bit longer than it needs to be, Something Rotten! is modestly recommended as a mild musical theater amusement that’s well produced/designed and performed. It’s family friendly and destined for a longish life being performed by high schools and community theaters for the next 30 years.