Oh, the Irony of a Show Called Something Rotten!...

…when said show is anything but.

Kharma bent me over with this one, lovely readers. Back when the show was announced, I felt like Broadway collectively was trying to make fetch happen with this original musical about Shakespeare and musicals. As if we’re automatically inclined to love it and support it because it has a Broadway-heavy cast and creative and blah blah blah...

I’m not sorry for calling it like it is, but the show looked like a last-ditch replacement since Side Show wasn’t bringing in the moneys and the owners of the St. James Theatre will break out into hives or something if their huge-ass theatre isn’t occupied during award season.

So, here’s me admitting I was a smidgen pre-judgemental…because Something Rotten! is the other killer new musical opening this season that is not named Fun Home.

We’ve been fed a lot of try-hard comedies in the last few months {Honeymoon in Vegas, Fish in the Dark, It Shoulda Been You, Living on Love} and if I had to distinguish a more upscale show with some audience-pandering, my spirit animal lies with Something Rotten! It pays its respect to Shakespeare and the genre of musical theatre, but also ventures down the path of meta-commentary and playful-bashing. There’s even a song called “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” which even the most ardent of Shakespeare-philes (Me? I’m just a mild fan) can relate to.

The main storyline of the show - a pair of brothers trying to create the first musical after Shakespeare himself has hit the big time - gets a little hinky in places, but John O’Farrell, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick's book and score don’t let up often. At a point, you just need to sit back and applaud the testicular fortitude Something Rotten! has to GO. THERE. Where is ‘there’ exactly? Somewhere in the first act when A CRAY CRAY SONG ABOUT THE BLACK PLAGUE HAPPENS. Sorry, but I will never get over that minute-plus moment of bonkers. And the cray express continues with SHAKESPEARE IN LEATHER PANTS SINGING A ROCK NUMBER AND BEING AN EGOTISTICAL DOUSCHEBAG. Here for it.

A TAP-DANCE OFF? I’m done. I’m dead. But I’ll keep going...

Overall, the quotes and references are, at the minimum, plentiful and clever (a character named Portia barging into a court room! Les Miserables! My Fair Lady! Pippin! Cats!) when they weren’t ABSOLUTELY SLAYING me (A FLAWLESS Dreamgirls moment!). The musical within the show that debuts in the second act is so absurd and hilarious, it almost matched the Joseph Smith American Moses sequence from The Book of Mormon…which for the record, is one of the best musical theatre moments of 6ever.

With Something Rotten!, Casey Nicholaw is in top form. Not only does his choreography land, but Nicholaw’s direction caters to the spectacle and “WOW!” factor that only the best musicals can achieve. It’s grandiose and it overwhelms, but at least it leaves an impression and he even has the sense to self-edit at times. The latter moments aren’t the most memorable, but they are practically a necessity to offset the 2,178 set pieces and actors coming and going. And thankfully, Nicholaw avoids the tired cliche of someone diva-ing out on stage as it shape-shifts and vortexes around, as if the entire audience staring in one direction wouldn’t notice.

The men of Something Rotten! just blew open my entire Tony Ballot, so much so I can’t recall the last time four actors from the same show have legitimate chances for 10 coveted spots. Brad Oscar as Nostradamus - the soothsayer the plot fairies depend on - gets a ton of one-liners as he looks into the future and tries to process all of musical theatre’s absurdity. John Cariani, the Shakespeare-loving half of the central brother pairing, actually makes a portion of the story about him with his awkwardness and lovesick emoting…no small feat with all of the crowd-pleasing shenanigans around him. And Christian Borle, the Black Stache of my heart, gets to reprise that role through the filter of the British-accented Shakespeare - crazy antics, costuming and self-obsession and all.

For my money, Brian D’Arcy James is where it is at. He is given quite the character arch as someone who wants to achieve greatness in the theatre and provide for his family (with a side-trip into being PISSED. THE FUCK. OFF at Shakespeare) and James knocks everything out of the park. It’s easy to forget that he’s capable of holding down leading man status - what with his last outing on Broadway being a minor role in Jack OBrien’s Macbeth and with him doing nothing on Smash - but I don’t think he has it in him to fuck up anything.

It’s refreshing that this show dark-horsed its way into my theatre-loving heart when I never even heard of it prior to December. While I still wish American Idiot was running at the big ol’ St. James (or even Side Show, which I liked), Something Rotten! is permitted to stay there as long as it continues to be amazeballs. And with the reception around the show, stay there it will. For quite some time, I imagine.

Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

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