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Something Rotten

Photos  Joan Marcus

                                           by Julia Polinsky

Right from the start, Michael James Scott, as The Minstrel, treats the audience to the opening song (“Welcome to the Renaissance”), a real razzle dazzle, over the top, you-can’t-touch-this Broadway song and dance. In doublet and pantaloons. The curtain rises; the ensemble joins in; farthingales sway and knee boots tap as dancers welcome you to the Renaissance. Indeed. Welcome to Something Rotten, which delivers the Three S’s of a great musical – Stars, Story, and Songs -- and adds in Silliness, its own special sauce, in spades.  

ichael James Scott as the Minstrel & the cast

The wonderful Brian d’Arcy James shines as the stolid, not very bright, tin-eared and talentless Nick Bottom. James sings well, dances competently, and makes us care about Nick’s anger, frustration, and hopes, squirm at his considerable mistakes, rejoice at his redemption.
The splendid Christian Borle, deliciously flamboyant as Shakespeare in Leather, whether he’s being a rock star poet performing in the park, or wrestling with his writing (“It’s Hard to Be the Bard,” he sings). He lies, cheats, plagiarizes, steals, and breaks the mold of all our expectations, with great style, verve, and humor.
(The dance-off argument between the two of them? Tapping perfectly in time to the words – famous play quotes -  they speak? Well, in a show full of laugh-‘til-you-weep moments, definitely a highlight.)
John Cariani’s Nigel, the geeky, fragile, talented writer brother, could break your heart with his belief in love, poetry, and being true to yourself. Cariani does an excellent job of making Nigel adorable.

Brad Oscar as Nostradamus & Brian d'Arcy James as Nick Bottom 

The nut job Nostradamus, beautifully done by Brad Oscar, and Shylock, the Really Nice Jew, an over the top character from Gerry Vichi, round out the stellar cast of men. But how about the ladies?  

Brooks Ashmanskas as Brother Jeremiah & Kate Reinders as Portia

Heidi Blickenstaff plays Bea, Nick Bottom’s wife, with lovely warmth and a golden voice. Kate Reinders makes Portia the Puritan something special: a cross between a total fangirl and a woman who sees tender truth, and sings of it quite beautifully.  

John Cariani as Nigel Bottom & Brian d'Arcy James as Nick Bottom

Nick and Nigel Bottom, and their third-rate theater company in Elizabethan London, are about to lose their patron and his support. Shakespeare, The Bard, has already used the idea for their upcoming show. Nick, the impresario brother, has one day to come up with a new project. Broke and desperate, Nick steals his wife’s savings, and goes to a soothsayer for a vision of the future: what will be the next big thing in theater be?
The answer: Musicals. (hilarious production number, “A Musical”) It takes some convincing, but Nick decides his troupe will do a musical as their next play. He makes a very poor choice of subject matter, (insert even more hilarious production number, “The Black Death”), loses his patron, and goes back to Nostradamus for more predictions—but this time, Nick wants to know what will be Shakespeare’s greatest hit, so he can scoop it. Nostradamus obliges. Sort of. Nick sings his anthem: “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” and all else flows from there.
Yes, there’s a star-crossed love story. Yes, there’s a dastardly bad guy, who wants to shut the theater down. Yes, there’s family pressure; yes, there’s an encounter with the law; yes, yes, yes, everything you want is here. It’s a musical comedy; you can be pretty sure there will be a happy ending. In this case, people are true to themselves, accept what happens next, and crack eggs to make an omelet.

It’s been a while since a new musical had memorable, hummable, spanking new songs. The awe inspiring creative team of Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick has written tuneful, melodic silliness with zest, worked hard for some rhymes, ended up with some groaners, made the audience laugh. Memorable tunes that get stuck in your head? Huge win.
John O’Farrell’s book works so well, there are no holes to poke, no “if only.” Littered with references to Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays, O’Farrell also quote-bombs from musicals by the dozen, so between the musical references and the Shakespeare in-jokes, you’ll hear something to delight you.
Huge kudos to Gregg Barnes, the costume designer, who had to take these damn strange and awkward clothes and make them Broadway-worthy.
Scenic design, by Scott Pask, seamlessly moves the action from theater to Soothsayer’s Alley to home to theater to courtroom to… no, that would be giving it away.
Lighting by Jeff Croiter is excellent, as is Milagros Medina-Cerdeira’s inspired makeup design. Peter Hylenski designed the best I’ve encountered in ages.

Above all, this: to the director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw: mega, mega congrats for making the show seem like it was effortless. Something Rotten feels like a group of friends got together and just had fun, and along the way, came up with a first rate evening of glorious silliness. In a musical about how hard it is to write and produce for the theater, Nicholaw never lets the work show.
The payoff for all this inspired lunacy, this theatrical excellence, these outstanding song-and-dance numbers? Underpinning all the surface action, Something Rotten has more to offer than inspired musical comedy. It beats the drum of authenticity, in incident after incident, subplot after subplot. Shylock, the Really Nice Jew; Bea, Nick’s super-competent wife; Nigel and his beloved Portia; and especially Nick and Shakespeare: all these characters find out that it is important to thine own self be true, and thereby hangs a tale. Something Rotten? Nay; ‘tis something glorious.
St. James Theatre,
246 W. 44th St., New York, between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Box office hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-8pm, Sun, Noon-6pm
Tickets at or 212-239-6200