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

The Sound of Music Live!

The Sound of Music Live!

Amidst my Christmas holiday week of movie watching (American Hustle, Casablanca, City Island, and Frozen a second time), I managed to find the time to finally sit down and view The Sound of Music Live! I have since been debating whether or not to post about it. I feel like everyone and their mother have already put their two cents in, particularly in the theatre community, and it was quite the mix of feelings. It seemed like this musical broadcast became either a personal affront to viewers or a personal accomplishment. There was a lot of hate and a lot of preaching back to that hate. My Facebook news feed blew up the way it does when there’s a big football game on, and I end up having no idea what anyone’s status means. But I figure things have died down a bit, and I suppose it can’t hurt to throw a couple more pennies into the mix, right?

Let’s start with the good, shall we? There was some lovely singing, smooth camera work, and solid nun talent. Vampire Bill – I mean, Stephen Moyer? He did a pretty decent job! That kid playing Kurt? Great. He was in it. Audra? Clearly. Do we even need to talk about her? Everyone already knows she’s a goddess. It was a pleasure to have real theatre folks involved like Christian Borle as Max. There’s an extra comfort level in watching stage actors do what they do best, especially those who already have TV experience.

But let’s be serious, I’m mostly writing this review so I can brag about Laura Benanti. I love her, love her, love her, and I’m so glad people are finally starting to take notice of her abilities. I was never drawn to Elsa growing up. I didn’t understand the character, but now she’s clear to me. Laura brings a naturalism to the role, to live filming, to song, to everything. And thank god we had her for some laughs.

Of course there were weak links, but I honestly don’t want to dig into them too much. I don’t know what was up with the costumes. Some of the kids were hard to watch. The mountain set was awkward, although the scene changes were smooth and well done.

Listen, I know you’re all waiting for me to rip into Carrie, but I don’t really want to do that. The critics have been cruel enough. I’ll just say this: I feel bad that she and the people who represent her thought this was a good idea. She’s talented and clearly can sing, but she is simply not an actress. This doesn’t make her untalented; it just makes her not an actress. There isn’t an acting instinct in her bones. I was frankly very uncomfortable watching her speak any dialogue. I also feel bad that they yanked all of the “Southerness” out of her. This at least gives her character and flavor. True, Maria shouldn’t be a Southern belle, but without it, she came across as vanilla and bland. I understand that Carrie was cast to draw in viewers. Hopefully next time they’ll find a name that can better carry a show.

All that said I’m thrilled they took on this endeavor. It’s a wonderful chance for people who don’t live in a big theatre city to get to see a musical on screen. To this day, musicals still don’t get a lot of respect. People consider them merely fluffy or lame; they’re all flash and spectacle and couldn’t possibly affect audiences the way plays can. The fact that NBC is going to do another live musical due to the ratings The Sound of Music got is fantastic as far as I’m concerned. Folks associating musical theatre with high ratings?  I don’t know about you, but as a musical theatre fan through and through, I’ll take that any day.

The Sound of Music Live!
Directed by Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy-Miller
Aired live on NBC on December 5, 2013
Photo Credit: Will Hart
Pictured: Stephen Moyer and Laura Benanti