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: Peter and the Starcatcher

Its always a difficult proposition to transform a novel into a stage play – if you staged a novel page for page, it would probably run at least six hours if not much, much longer. So it may be a little unfair of me to suggest that Peter and the Starcatcher should be even shorter than its two acts and two hours. But, sorry to say it, that is exactly what keeps this fun and occasionally thoughtful roller-coaster ride of a show from being a true knock-out.

Both novel and play mine the idea of telling Peter Pan’s backstory, full of British Empire intrigue, orphans, magic and, yes, pirates. Playwright Rick Elice’s jokey adaptation slims the novel’s epic quality down to a manageable length, yes, but there still remain many moments where the audience is well ahead of the script. There’s also several moments that are muddied by different production elements fighting each other for attention. The production was co-directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and indeed this is one of the more over-directed shows I’ve seen in a while.

This is quibbling, however, since Peter and the Starcatcher is generally very engaging and entertaining. As often as they muddy the waters, Rees and Timbers even more often successfully find ways to assist Elice’s storytelling with simple yet appropriately magical theatrical means.

Plus, the cast is clearly having the time of their lives, especially Smash‘s Christian Borle as the way-fey pirate captain Black Stache – he once tells a monster to stop eating his scenery, which actually seems like an understatement. Adam Chanler-Berat is rapidly becoming the city’s go-to actor for evoking the joys and challenges of heroic adolescence. His portrayal of the proto-Pan “Boy” looks at this from directly the opposite angle of his take on Rent‘s “please-let-me-grow-up-right-now” Mark, and is every bit as effective.

I had a good time and more than a few laughs at Peter and the Starcatcher, and have no hesitation in recommending it as mildly thought-provoking – but mostly just really charming – entertainment.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see