Well, this is fun! Something Rotten! is another satirical pastiche musical that is actually a pretty good musical by its own lights. A little “second act trouble”, but, hey, even Chicago has that.
In 1595 London – or a reasonable musical comedy imitation thereof – Brothers Nick (Brian d’Arcy James) and Nigel Bottom (John Cariani) are in dire straits and need a hit play fast, but can’t compete with theatrical juggernaut William Shakespeare (Christian Borle). Nick pays a soothsayer to give him a peek at theatre’s future, which inspires him to write the world’s very first musical.
Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw is Broadway’s current master of this kind of patische-y fun, and he’s firing on all cylinders. This show’s main virtues are willful silliness and breakneck energy, and Nicholaw wisely leans into those qualities.
Borle’s an actor that’s rightly respected for his ability to ham it up with real pizzazz, and his take on the bard is a royal piece of ham-ery, a glam cross between Mick Jagger and Mel Brooks. Nick Bottom is arguably the lead role, and d’Arcy James shows his range by hitting Nick’s more manic moments with glee, and his quieter moments with much more psychological depth than what’s on the page.
It’s Nigel, however, who has the biggest arc, going from Nick’s timid second banana to a writer confident in his own gifts. Cariani is just the right actor for this, matching a gawky awkwardness with soulful longing.
Brooks Ashmanskas also stands out as Brother Jeremiah, a closeted fop of a puritan who has a real problem keeping his entendres in his codpiece. It’s the kind of over-the-top comic performance that makes his colleagues almost break character with laughter.
This isn’t the best self-referential musical funfest out there; for that go see the still-running Nicholaw-helmed Book of Mormon. Nonetheless, Something Rotten! is plenty entertaining.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.