Stage review: 'Something Rotten!' is something to smile about
February 1, 2017 5:57 PM
Rob McClure, center, with his Broadway costars in "Something Rotten!," now on tour and at the Benedum Center.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series works its way through the Tony Awards class of 2015, "Something Rotten!" should be remembered as the musical that delivered the longest and loudest laughs and a fun time had by all.
You couldn't ask for a sillier more satisfying show for theater nerds and anyone who loves shows packed with elaborate dance numbers, double entendres and energy to spare, plus a stellar cast led by the inexhaustible Rob McClure.
Where: PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center.
When: Through Feb. 5. 7:30 p.m. through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $26-$77; trustarts.org or 412-456-4800.
You know you are in for a good time right off the bat, when a minstrel played by charismatic Nick Rashad Burroughs struts onto the Benedum Center stage and welcomes you to the Renaissance.
The black plague and puritanical persecution notwithstanding, it’s a pretty cool place, particularly for the arts. It’s the time of Middleton, Bacon, Marlowe and the one and only Bard.
Straight from Broadway, Mr. McClure reprises his role as Nick Bottom, who with his hopeless romantic younger brother, Nigel (Josh Grisetti), are trying to make their way as playwrights with a failing troupe. If they represent the bottom, alone at the top is the prancing egomaniac William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal of “Rent” fame).
In the “Something Rotten!” version of things, Nick suggested that Shakespeare take up writing, and now regrets it to the max. Will is reveling in adoration, and Nick is none too happy about it. Even Nigel is a fan, much to his brother’s horror.
Nick also is aghast that his spunky, loyal wife (Maggie Lakis, Mr. McClure’s real-life wife) has determined to make a buck and support his career as a struggling writer. Desperate for a hit, he seeks the help of soothsayer Nostradamus. He winds up with a nephew, Thomas Nostradamus (the hilarious Blake Hammond), whose reading of future events is only relatively on target.
Their encounter leads to the re-invention of theater.
In the beyond splashy number “A Musical” -- the one staged for the Tony Awards ceremony -- there’s tap dancing, a kick line and references to musicals from “Rent” to “Evita,” “Cats” to “A Chorus Line” and more. On opening night of the “Something Rotten!” tour on Tuesday, the number received one of the most sustained applause I’ve seen at the Benedum.
In fact, you can spend all your time picking out fast and furious references to musicals and/or lines from Shakespeare -- or did he steal them from Nigel Bottom?
Shakespeare, it turns out, is all public bravado and inner insecurities. In the role that won a Tony for Christian Borle, Mr. Pascal preens as the golden boy of the 1590s and surprises in a rare comedic turn, posing as Toby Belch (“Twelfth Night’s” just down the street at the Public, if you’re wondering) to infiltrate Nick’s troupe and find out what the Bottoms are up to.
Nick expresses his disdain for Shakespeare at every turn -- including the blasphemous “I Hate Shakespeare” -- but the Bard himself doesn’t show up until late in the first act. It’s in the second act, when he laments that it is “Hard Being the Bard” that we get to the bottom of how far the world’s most revered playwright will go for a hit.
The first act takes us through Nick’s scramble to find something new (a musical) and something borrowed -- the next big thing from Shakespeare -- by consulting Thomas. This Nostradamus doesn’t get things quite right when he offers up the title of the play that will be “Hamlet.” Let’s just say that it’s not too long before it is discovered, he’s got egg on his face.
A side story of Nigel falling in love with a Puritan leader’s poetry-loving daughter, Portia (Autumn Hurlburt), gives Mr. Grisetti a chance to further display his comedic chops and lovely tenor. Scott Cote is a hoot as Portia’s father, Brother Jeremiah, and Jeff Brooks as Shylock, the Jewish money lender who illegally invests in Nick’s musical, recalls a plot line in “Spamalot.”
“Something Rotten!” frequently follows in the footsteps of hits from director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Like that Monty Python musical, “Something Rotten!” spoofs every convention that it can fit into more than 2 1/2 hours. Like “The Book of Mormon,” it is a buddy comedy -- brothers, in this case -- one of whom has lost his way and the other, the seemingly weaker one, who has to step up.
“Something Rotten!” has a few curse words and plenty of sexual references but nothing as over the top as “Mormon.” The songs are by Wayne Kirkpatrick (the Grammy-winning writer of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”) and Karey Kirkpatrick (a screenwriter whose credits include “Chicken Run,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). The Kirkpatricks also conceived the story, and the book is by Karey and John O’Farrell.
In a perfectly cast star turn, Mr. McClure is a generator of energy with a 1,000-watt smile. Whether he’s singing, dancing, delivering jokes or digging in his heels, you can’t help but root for him. When he is reminded that, “This above all: to thine own self be true,” it’s a relief to see his Nick back on the right track.
The songs are catchy and the lyrics range from the sublime to the ridiculous, with a lot of risque in between. The one-liners and knee-slappers just keep on coming … it can be exhausting, although it’s hard to complain about something, or should I say, “Something Rotten!,” being too funny.
The musical award-winners from that 2015 class still to come in the Broadway Series are best revival “The King and I,” best musical “Fun Home” and “An American in Paris,” winner of four Tonys. The series began the year with best play “A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
“Something Rotten!” received 10 nominations and won one, for Fox Chapel native Borle. If there had been an award for “best escapist good time at a musical,” it would have one more.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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