Review: Something Rotten!

Something Rotten B-Roll

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

Review: Aladdin

Aladdin, Toronto 2013

There’s much more to Aladdin than its often shirtless male chorus, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Not that there’s anything incredibly substantial about it – this is brisk, lively, even jazzy musical comedy. And, as such, one of the more successful Disney screen-to-stage musical transfers.

The setting may be the Middle East, but this version of the tale of a poor street boy wooing a princess with the help of a genie is pure screwball romantic comedy, like the original. Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw brings a little of that to every show he directs, and he lays it on thick here, to deliriously over the top effect.

Of course, one of the most exciting things about the film was Robin Williams’ hyperkinetic, hilarious voicing of the Genie. You can’t do a version of Disney’s Aladdin,and not have a Genie that, one way or another, rises to that level of comic hysteria. Happily, James Monroe Iglehart has just the twinkle, crazy energy and deliciously shameless hamminess that the role calls for, especially for his biggest number “Freind Like Me”, which truly pulls out every stop in sight.

Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) and Jasmine (Courtney Reed) are, as in the movie, pretty and just clueless enough to each have their coming of age moments. This ain’t Ibsen, and Jacobs and Reed play their parts with just the right light touch. Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the evil vizier Jafar in the film, reprises his role here with the same basso oily malevolence. His beard, however, is a touch too cartoony compared to the other hair work in the show.

Plus, this version has several songs with lyrics by the film’s original conceiver and lyricist Howard Ashman that were cut from the film. Most of them are for a trio of “street rat” pals of Aladdin’s – who were replaced by the monkey Abu in the film – and are quite fun. Nicholaw has wisely cut all “talking animals” from the story, making Jafar’s lackey Iago human rather than a parrot – and Don Darryl Rivera really goes to town with the re-conceived part.

Aladdin ain’t Oklahoma, it ain’t even The Lion King. It’s just great fun. I think Nicholaw and company set out to make light yet spectacular family entertainment, and they have succeeded marvelously. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.