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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SOMETHING ROTTEN!
at St. James Theatre

STRAIGHT TO BROADWAY
By MATT WINDMAN

  Ph: Joan Marcus

No, it’s not rotten. In fact, it’s completely fresh – in the sense that Something Rotten! is an original musical comedy that is receiving its world premiere on Broadway, without having undergone a regional tryout or Off-Broadway run. If you look at the other shows nominated for this year’s Tony Award for Best New Musical, Fun Home premiered at the Public Theater, The Visit had several regional productions over many years, and An American in Paris was first seen, appropriately enough, in Paris. Honeymoon in Vegas, Finding Neverland and The Last Ship too received regional runs.
 
Something Rotten! was supposed to premiere out of town, but producer Kevin McCollum (who also brought the original comedy Hand to God to Broadway this season) decided to bring it straight to Broadway. He was implicitly saying, “We don’t need a regional run. The show is that good.”
 
Four years ago, The Book of Mormon also opened fresh on Broadway, but everybody knew the creators of South Park had something special on their hands. On the other hand, Something Rotten! was written by unknowns, though Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin) has a great reputation as a director-choreographer with plenty of razzle-dazzle up his sleeve. It also has a celebrity-free cast, though it is packed with great musical comedy performers full of personality.
 
You could describe Something Rotten! as Shakespeare in Love meets Spamalot. Set in Elizabethan England, a struggling playwright (Brian d’Arcy James), unable to compete with the ever-popular Shakespeare (Christian Borle), visits a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to find out what’s going to be the next hot trend in the theater. “Musicals!” he is told.
 
He then asks what Shakespeare’s biggest hit will be, hoping to rip off the Bard. Instead of Hamlet, the soothsayer says “omelette,” so a breakfast-themed musical is prepared, chock full of nods to well-known musicals. All the while, the playwright’s earnest brother (John Cariani) writes what actually appears to be Hamlet, and a prying Shakespeare takes notes.
 
With all its showmanship and silliness, Something Rotten! begins on an extremely promising note, sustains it throughout act one (climaxing with an eight-minute showstopper that will not be forgotten anytime soon), and then falters in act two, where attempts are made to resolve the haywire plot. Although I admire Kevin McCollum’s confidence in the piece, a regional tryout really was needed to work out the kinks.
 
Even so, Something Rotten! is a great deal of cartoonish fun, especially for musical theater fans who can appreciate the inside references, which range from the megahits Cats and Les Miz to the golden-age classic The Music Man to the flop Chess. Its cheery songs are enjoyable and hummable. The tune of “Welcome to the Renaissance” will stay in your head for days.
 
The cast is comprised of musical theater veterans who deliver larger-than-life performances. Borle is especially hilarious, portraying Shakespeare like a narcissistic rock star, and James gives a sympathetic turn in the leading role. 

 


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