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Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

Did you know that Shakespeare was an arrogant fop?  That he stole the ideas, as well as much of the text from his plays from others?  Are you aware that some of those who worked with Will actually hated him?  What about the fact that even he spouted about  how hard it was to be the Bard.  Did you know that because of him, the format for musicals was developed?  Are you aware that he was the rock star of his day?  Well, those are only some of the “facts” that are espoused in SOMETHING ROTTEN, a very new musical.

From it’s opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” Broadway newbie book writers, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyric conceivers, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, create laugh out-loud farcical material.

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in the mold of SPAMALOT, THE PRODUCERS and THE BOOK OF MORMON.  It is filled with silliness and farcical actions.

There are numerous references to the Bard’s plays and Broadway musicals. Someone not familiar with either of these topics might not get all the subtext.  But even they will find enough to laugh about.

How can a show with a score which contains such titles as “The Black Death,”  “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “It’s Eggs,” and ‘To Thine Own Self” be anything but delightful?

The story centers on Nick and Nigel Bottom, an actor and his playwright brother, who live in the theatrical shadow of the Bard of Avon.  They desire to take some of the attention away from Shakespeare.  How to do it?  They pay a Soothsayer to look into the future.  His findings?  Shakespeare’s greatest hit is going to be a play named, “Omelet” and the next big trend in theatre is going to be musicals, where the actors sing many of their lines.  (And you thought the American musical was a modern invention!)  So, obviously the duo starts to one-up Will by writing a musical play about eggs.

Their efforts result in a kick line of dancing omelets, a silly story line, and ridiculous farcical actions.  The musical number “It’s Eggs!” ranks with THE PRODUCERS’ “Springtime for Hitler” as one of the funniest dance numbers in a Broadway musical.

It’s classical theatre gone awry, complete with show-stoppers, encore after encore (whether the audience wants them or not), ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions, and male costumes with huge codpieces.

We observe Shakespeare as “a hack with a knack for stealing anything he can,” who actually swipes not only the title, but plot devices and lines which turn out to be “his” HAMLET. (Oh, HAMLET, not OMELTE!  As the soothsayer says, “Well, I was close!”

Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them.  Under director Casey Nickolaw’s deft hand, the cast makes the difficult look easy.

Brian d’Arcy James (Nick Bottom) and Christian Borle (Shakespeare), noted for their starring roles on NBC’s Broadway musical take-off, SMASH, have wonderful comic timing.  James, with his strong jaw tightly set, rails against Shakespeare. Borle, with his saucer-eyes shinning, schemes back.  “God, I Hate Shakespeare” is countered by “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard.”  Both have strong singing voices and know how to play farce.

John Cariani as Nigel Bottom is charming.  His “I Love the Way,” sung with the beautiful Kate Reinders (Portia) is young love incarnate.

Heidi Blickenstaff is delightful as Nick’s wife, one of the world’s first feminists, the Betty Freidan of the Elizabethan era.  Her “Right Hand Man,” sung with Brian d’Arcy James, and then as a solo, were well done.

Gerry Vichi as Shylock and Brad Oscar as Nostradamus almost steal the show.  Both are masters of the double take and are Borscht Belt pros at playing “shtick.”

Capsule judgment:  SOMETHING ROTTEN is a rare theatrical event…a wonderful musical farce.  Anyone who wants to go to the theatre and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, and experience two acts of non-stop laughter…this “very new musical” should be their play of choice!    

SOMETHING ROTTEN is in an open run at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, New York.