HOLLYWOOD—Hamilton has been hot for a while now, but make way for a new meal ticket. “Something Rotten!” offers up a deliciously tasty, and often delightfully tasteless, touch of Hamlet and eggs served with a side of wry.
The opening song of “Something Rotten!” says, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” but the Minstrel (Nick Rashad Burroughs) leads it off with a wink and a modern twist to the world of Shakespeare in the 1590s. Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) struts out in leather pants, like a punk rock star, with a high-spiked, metal ruff collar and dyed blonde hair, and the townspeople kowtow. He is their theatre god.
A certain Lin-Manuel Miranda comes to mind, as the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel (respectively, Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti), struggle to succeed as writers in a monopolized field. How can they compete (beyond wearing a bigger codpiece, or a double-wide doublet)? As the townsfolk gush, of Shakespeare, “We love him,” Nick and Nigel, and their floundering troupe, chant, “God, I Hate Shakespeare” (perchance a nod to Kiss Me Kate’s more general hatred of all men by Kate).
Gregg Barnes’ costumes are brilliant, as the bum rolls enhance the ladies’ twerking, and the men’s accoutrements (seemingly absurd, but actually appropriate to the time), embellish their masculinity. The story line of “Something Rotten!” may be as superfluous as the size of the codpieces, but McClure’s spot-on Nick gives it heart. The brothers need to find a way to beat Will at his game, or at least make a living, and, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Nick, in desperation, searches out a soothsayer, the not-so-famous nephew to Nostradamus, Thomas (Blake Hammond). His fame is limited by his skewed prescience, so some mistakes are made along the way. The answer, they are told, is “Musicals!” “What?,” they ask, “An actor is saying his lines and, suddenly, he starts singing?” The resulting musical is about, of all things, an omelet, with dancing eggs. Better that than their first attempt, singing and dancing about the Black Death.
The book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and the music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, provide non-stop, exhausting hilarity, all in fun… just what the doctor ordered for today’s weary world. It seems that “Something Rotten!” is probably even a better panacea now than when it opened in 2015. It lost most of its Tony Award nominations to Fun Home, at the time, but now, more than then, audiences need a truly fun house. When was the last actual showstopper you’ve seen? Here it is Hammond who rocks the house with the number, “A Musical,” a mash-up mix of every great musical number one can imagine.
The choreography is shot-out-of-a-cannon rapid fire, and each flick of a hand is as good as Fosse’s, but done to a turn with Casey Nicholaw’s personal stamp. “Something Rotten!,” directed and choreographed by Nicholaw, is a faster and more furious spoof than its contemporary predecessors, “Book of Mormon” (Director/Choreographer, Nicholaw), and “Monty Python’s” Spamalot (Choreographer, Nicholaw). He seems to multiply the energy level with each creation. “Something Rotten!” barely ever takes a breath, which makes the pure moments of Grisetti’s beautiful tenor solos an even bigger payoff. We all get to sit back for a moment and take it in. But then we sit up again, ready for more zaniness, and soon enough, come it does.
The women are second to the men in this show, as was the case back in the day. Maggie Lakis as Bea appropriately asserts herself nonetheless, justifying her actions with, “This is the ‘90s! By 1600, women will be completely equal! Let me be your right-hand man…your go-to-guy,” and Autumn Hurlbert as Portia is Nigel’s muse. Yes, Nigel’s Portia. There is something rotten, and it’s that Shakespeare is actually pilfering Nigel’s poetic pearls, upon which Portia’s Puritan father, Brother Jeremiah, is simultaneously trying to put the kibosh (played with plenty of panache by Scott Cote).
Though this be madness, there are no rotten eggs, or tomatoes, in it. Just sheer, fresh, unadulterated, hammy fun, and on opening night, the audience ate it up, over-the-top ham and eggs and all. But as they say in the play, “Don’t listen to critics; they’re for ca-ca.”
“Something Rotten!” is running from November 21 thru December 31 at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center located at 135 N. Grand Avenue. It is presented by Center Theatre Group. Tickets are available by calling (213) 972-4400, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or by visiting the Center Theatre Group Box Office located at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $30 -$140 (ticket prices are subject to change).