Friday, September 1, 2017

"Something Rotten"

Something Rotten
Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell (Book); Wayne & Karey Kirkpatrick (Music & Lyrics)

Nick Rashad Burroughs & Cast of Something's Rotten
With a face that literally glows in excitement and a voice that pops and zings with full exuberance, the Minstrel sings, “Welcome to the Renaissance, where we ooh and ahh you with ambiance ... where everything is new.”  After touting their “trendy beards,” “houses all Tudor,” and a printing press with “fancy fonts,” Nick Rashad Burroughs (as the Minstrel) and the gathered crowd with their puffy pants and proud cod pieces or their breasts bursting out of colorful dresses save their real praise for one and only one: William Shakespeare.  As the crowd transforms into revival-like frenzy singing, “We love him, we love him,” even we in the audience cannot wait to lay eyes on the “the bomb, the soul of the age, the whiz of the Elizabethan stage.”  It is difficult not to wonder at this point why Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell (book) named their 2015 Broadway premiering musical Something Rotten (music and lyrics by the brothers, Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick) – especially since the setting for this SHN production is definitely not Denmark and the opening number is anything but a dud!

Josh Grisetti & Rob McClure
But it does not take long for us to realize not everyone in Merry Ol’ England of 1595 is all a-gaga about the young Avon-transplant.  Struggling playwright Nick Bottom is not shy at all in declaring “God I Hate Shakespeare,” with Rob McClure fully employing razor-exacting vocals that cut quickly to the point: “I just don’t get it how a mediocre actor from a measly little town is suddenly the brightest jewel in England’s loyal crown.”  Nick is on a crusade to belittle the Bard to his shocked fellow troupe-mates, who respond with “How can you say that? ... The man really knows how to write a bitchin’ play.”  But Nick will have none of their adoration, summing up Will’s plays as “Love you, stab myself, the end.”

His brother and play-writing partner, Nigel Bottom, totally disagrees with Nick as Josh Grisetti sings sincerely and with smooth, beautifully flowing vocals, “What majesty flows from his pen”  ... “[how] he captures my soul.”  His gushing praise does nothing but make Nick boil over more in his venom for the so-called toast of the town, so much so that he high tails it to the seedier part of London to seek help in how to outsmart Shakespeare by having the great Nostradamus (well, actually his nephew, Thomas) look into the future to tell Nick the next big thing in theatre. 

Rob McClure & Blake Hammond with Ensemble
A wide-eyed, bushy bearded Blake Hammond conjures up as Nostradamus the answer to Nick’s problems, singing with his wonderfully quirky voice:  “Nothing’s as amazing as a musical, with song and dance and sweet romance and happy endings happening by happenstance.”  Nick is highly skeptical that anyone could possibly like such a spectacle.  However, the soothsayer produces a stage full of tap dancing singers in dazzling costumes showing a little bare leg (women) and chest (men).  They proceed to sing/dance a myriad of snippets resembling everything from Music Man to Chicago, Chorus Line, and Annie.  Nick becomes almost as excited as the enthusiastic SHN audience and is ready to write what Nostradamus describes as “a big and shiny, mighty finey ... shake your hiney mu-si-cal” (important to draw the word our for full effect).

The creation process to the brothers’ shot at a big hit is an arduous one, as even the Bard himself could tell them it would be.  After a first-attempt with a musical entitled “The Black Death” that is hilarious for this audience but cannot find a ticket-buyer in 1595 (too soon?), Nick returns to Nostradamus and hears the sure answer to his prayers:  The name of Shakespeare’s next big hit.  So confident is he that he will now best his rival with a musical called “Omelette,” Nick leads the company in another tap-dancing extravaganza, “This Bottom’s Going to Be on Top,” one of several fabulous stage-filling ensemble numbers directed and choreographed with modern flair and moves by Casey Nicholaw, giving all that is new in the Renaissance a bit of 21st Century pizzazz. 

Rob McClure, Maggie Lakis & Josh Grisetti
Like most Shakespeare plays, Something Rotten has a male-dominated cast, with twice as many men as women in both ensemble and among leads.  One female does stand out; and like in many of the Bard’s comedies, she takes her turn dressed as a man for big laugh effects.  Maggie Lakis is a knockout as Nick’s loyal, loving wife, Bea.  She is bound and determined to be his “Right Hand Man,” singing with a sparkling voice brimming with fun and confidence, “I’m not a shrinking violet, a solid rock am I, so don’t be thinking I’ll crumble when the you-know-what hits the fan.”

Adam Pascal & Will Power Backup Boys
Of course, the man on everyone’s lips (even the snarled, totally jealous ones of Nick) has to make an eventual appearance or two. When Adam Pascal as Shakespeare explodes on stage in full rock-star attire and his own entourage of Will Power Backup Boys, all of London goes wild singing about “Will Power,” eventually swaying with lit candles to his Elvis-like crooning.  Will later comes back for another, laugh-out-loud number (with his boys now all in Folsom-Street leather) as he sings in a highly affected and comically effective voice, “Hard to Be the Bard.”

Scott Cote & Rob McClure
Not everyone is all caught up in the theatre scene of Queen Elizabeth’s London, namely (shocking though it is) the religious right Puritans -- especially their pompous, tch-tching leader, Brother Jeremiah.  Playing to such a wonderful pitch the role of the self-righteous Jeremiah is Scott Cote.  He comes close to stealing the show with his humph’s and tosses of the head and his looks of longing toward the two cute Puritan boys always by his side.  He is particularly perturbed when his daughter, Portia, suddenly falls in love with the poems and poet, Nigel.  Autumn Hurlbert as Portia joins Nigel in “I Love the Way” but unfortunately cannot blend that well her shrill-bound vocals with his more melodic, balladeer voice.

Beyond the big ensemble numbers that are packed with tongues-in-cheek and winks to anyone trying to count all the many allusions to famous musicals, much frivolity in Something Rotten comes from the exaggerated versions of Elizabethan London that roam in and out of scenes designed by Scott Pask, the colorful and often over-done-on-purpose costumes and hats/caps designed by Gregg Barnes, and the platted and puffed characters’ hair created by Josh Marquette. 

The rhyming lyrics are often corny; the situations are TV-sitcom worthy; and the out-numbered women (except for Ms. Lakis’ Bea) do not usually measure up to the men vocally since they have clearly been directed to sing with high-pitched, exaggerated voices that too often border on screeching.  However, Something Rotten is anything but so; and the touring version at SHN is guaranteed to bring lots of laughs to any audience member who has even the slightest knowledge of Shakespeare and/or the history of the Great American Musical.

Rating: 4 E

Something Rotten continues through September 10, 2017 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at

Photos by Jeremy Daniel

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