By Mary Damiano
You’ll lose track of all the shows referenced in Something Rotten, a frothy, delightful musical feast for theatre lovers, now playing at Broward Center.
The title, of course, comes from Hamlet—“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”—and while Shakespeare and his canon have been updated and adapted and parodied for centuries, Something Rotten takes that parody and homage to inventive new heights of hilarity.
It’s the ‘90s—the 1590s, that is—and William Shakespeare is The Bard, the rock star of writers, the leather-clad idol of the masses, who plays the park (think about it) and draws throngs of adoring, swooning fans with his unique way with a sonnet and deft phrases. It doesn’t hurt that Will possesses a swagger and an out-sized codpiece that screams walking sex. Sigh.
Will’s success is a constant source of consternation to Nick Bottom, a playwright and actor with a struggling theatre troupe. Nick’s younger brother Nigel, the real poet in the family, is a sensitive soul who admires Shakespeare and tries to emulate him. The Bottom brothers are at their lowest point—the rent is due, the moneylender needs to be paid, and Nick’s wife Bea wants to get a job to help out (after all, it is the ‘90s.) In need of a fresh new idea, Nick pays a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus, to look into the future to find him the next big thing in theatre. What Nostradamus sees is revolutionary: a kind of play where actors sing their lines and dance while doing it—a musical. When Nick asks Nostradamus to take his look into the future one step further and find out what Shakespeare’s next big play will be, the soothsayer’s visions get a little scattered, resulting in one of the most inventive and funniest Shakespeare parodies ever put on a stage.
Something Rotten walks a fine line between intellectual and silliness—you can feel the glee creators Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick must have had when conceiving Something Rotten. It certainly helps if you know a lot about theatre to appreciate all the references, but the book is so well written that even the most basic knowledge of theatre will have you rolling in the aisles. Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Pippin, The Producers, A Chorus Line, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked—are just a few included, in addition to a comprehensive barrage of Shakespeare’s work. There is also a thread of the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love running through the show, especially in Nigel’s storyline, as the blocked poet finds his voice and inspiration for his breakthrough work through the forbidden love of a beautiful blonde Portia.
The touring cast appearing at Broward Center is stellar. Rob McClure is perfection as Nick Bottom, the schlubby underdog with a great voice and endearing quality. Josh Grisetti is terrific as soulful Nigel, the common-sensical yin to Nick’s manic yang. He shines in “I Love the Way” his duet with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert) and in a clever scene in which a sonnet takes the place of sex. Blake Hammond is delightfully madcap and eccentric as Nostradamus—he, McClure and the dazzling ensemble have a real-showstopper in “A Musical” in which the anatomy of musical theatre structure is lovingly deconstructed. Maggie Lakis is memorable as industrious and clever Bea, Nick’s supportive wife.
As Will Shakespeare, Adam Pascal has incredible vocal prowess and charisma to spare—between this character re-imagining and Joseph Fiennes’ portrayal of the Bard of Avon, it’s now hard to picture the playwright as the older, balding man with a goatee.
Something Rotten is the absolute must-see show of the Broadway Across America season is South Florida. Get thee to Broward Center and prepare to be enthralled.
Something Rotten runs through April 2 at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and more information, visit BrowardCenter.org.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel