Something Rotten!

Something Rotten

I gotta say, Something Rotten has Best Musical written all over it. Admittedly, I have yet to see most of the new musicals this season as they’re all coming out right about…now (pre-Tony time is busy, friends!). So it’s true, I might change my tune after seeing Fun Home or Finding Neverland or It Shoulda Been You. Lots of new musical potential this year (update since I wrote those last two sentences: It Shoulda and Neverland did not do too well with the critics).

But Something Rotten knows what it’s doing, and it’s got Casey Nicholaw at the helm (you can view highlights here). Now Casey and I don’t always see eye to eye. I couldn’t quite get on board with his productions of Aladdin and Elf, but then there’s the hilarious The Drowsy Chaperone and underdog The Book of Mormon. And now he’s back delivering a brand new (that’s right! NEW!), yet deliciously old-school musical full of big shtick, big comedy, and big musical numbers. And Shakespeare references!

Wait, hold up – this show is about Shakespeare? Don’t run off just yet! It’s not all uppity with super insider-y jokes (although there are plenty for the big Shakespeare fans out there). Here’s the basic premise. All the Bottom brothers, Nick (Brian D’Arcy James) and Nigel (John Cariani), want is to write a hit of their own, but they can’t get a word in edgewise because William Shakespeare (Christian Borle) is all anyone can talk about, and his new play Romeo and Juliet just premiered at the Globe. Nick will do anything to top his rival, so he goes out in search of a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to find out what the “next big thing” might be. And what does he learn about? Why, musical theatre of course! So he dives headfirst into creating the world’s very first musical. Cut to countless hit musical references. I mean, so many you won’t catch all of them in one viewing.

Now sure, there are some easy jokes that drove me a little crazy (a woman guarantees there will be gender equality in no more than five years – get it?!), but on the whole, it’s a silly ball of fun. I don’t know the last time I laughed that hard at a musical. The score is packed with catchy tunes that you will actually leave the theatre humming. And to top it off, you have the impeccably talented cast.

Led by D’Arcy James and Borle, right off the bat, you know you’re in good hands. D’Arcy James is steadfast in everything he touches. He plays a solid straight man amidst all of the craziness but still gets his chance to cut loose. As the Bard, it’s so much fun to once again see the cockiness of Black Stache mixed with the bravado of Tony winner Borle himself. Brad Oscar is insane and hilarious, and Cariani and Kate Reinders are adorably charming and funny as the young will-they-won’t-they-couple. Oh, and Heidi Blickenstaff – I could listen to her sing all day. I wish there were more to her character, but sadly it’s not her show. This is very much about the Bottom brothers and Shakespeare, and the women unfortunately are left in the sidelines. I guess that’s what happens when a show takes place in 2015 – sorry, I mean 1595.

So. A musical chockfull of Shakespeare AND musical references? It sounds like this was made for me. How can you go wrong with a musical that’s an ode to musicals? I’m eager to see what the critics will be saying after the opening tonight, but honestly? I’m not the least bit worried about this show. Nothing’s gone rotten here.

Something Rotten! A Very New Musical
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Directed by Casey Nicholaw
St. James Theatre, Open-ended
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Christian Borle and the cast of Something Rotten



I’m sorry to declare that if you’re a fan of Macbeth, the current production up at Lincoln Center is not the one to see. Maybe you caught the more interesting Alan Cumming production a few short months ago. Or there’s still time to go see the abstract, interactive Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel. This more traditional approach, on the other hand, starring none other than Ethan Hawke as Mac, just sits there, barely filling the vast stage that is the Vivian Beaumont. True, the set and lighting designs are epic and at times beautiful, but they cannot make up for the significant lack of stakes within the scene work.

The drama comes across as stale with nothing really hanging in the balance. This is Macbeth we’re talking about! The murderous, bloody, envious story of Macbeth usurping King Duncan’s throne and then destroying everyone in his path in his desperate attempt to hold on to the throne. Instead, when something serious goes down, the moments venture toward melodrama. You know something is wrong when the most effective moment in the show is when the dining room table suddenly appears covered in lobster after Banquo’s untimely end. It’s quite surprising given that Jack O’Brien is the director. I like his work; he rarely disappoints. Is direction the core issue at hand here or is it the acting?

I love Brian d’Arcy James as Banquo. The man has an incredible singing voice, and his speaking voice is just as musical. I found myself wishing he had played Macbeth. And Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth was quite astute. Her work, including the infamous “Out Damn Spot” monologue, was some of the best in the show. John Glover is also charming and enticing as one of the bearded witches. As for Ethan, while I have enjoyed some of his film work, he has never particularly impressed me on stage. Granted he is fearless and always ready to take on any part, no matter the size, but he yelled his way through Henry IV and all three parts of The Coast of Utopia. In this, his voice is all one note. There is no music in his sound, and I left craving something more.

The show doesn’t open until November 21st, and I’m very curious what the reviews will report. The running time is just under three hours. I wonder if any cuts were made from the original script. Hecate and the weird sisters are followed around by crawling gremlin-like things. My friend had a nice nap during Act II. I’m not quite sure what else to say. The bottom line is Shakespeare needs stakes. Period. If that is missing, particularly in one of the tragedies, then why is the story needed?

Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Jack O’Brien
Lincoln Center Theater through January 12th
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson
Pictured: Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff