St James Theatre, New York
Readers with sharp memories will recall that Mel Brooks’ The Producers begins on Broadway outside the opening night of Max Bialystock’s latest show Funny Boy, A Musical Version Of Hamlet. So….fast forward to today and Something Rotten! is born of a similar mock-Shakespeare stable. Set in that cliched world of olde Elizabethan England that many Americans believe still exists on the other side of the Atlantic it’s all ruffs, Tudor beams and, for British readers of a certain age, a bit of an American take on Carry On Shakespeare.
We meet the Bottom Brothers (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti), two playwrights continually frustrated with living in Shakespeare’s shadow. Nick Bottom is desperate, just for once, to trump the Bard at writing, so cheatingly consults soothsayer Nostradamus (fabulous work from Brad Oscar) asking what Shakespeare’s greatest hit will be.
Nostradamus informs Bottom that not only will Shakespeare’s greatest hit be a show called “Omelette” (think about it….), but that also, in the future, audiences will enjoy a new theatrical genre to be known as “musical”. This lead in not only allows Oscar to steal the show’s first half with the irresistibly funny number A Musical that sends up most of the classic Broadway shows brilliantly, it also sets the the scene for the Bottom Brothers to set about creating Omelette – The Musical.
From there flows a string of corny gags as the show references classic Shakespeare quotes and misquotes and much like Mel Brooks’ creation of a preening pouting Fuhrer in Springtime For Hitler, so too do Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick send up Will Chase’s William Shakespeare even further by camping him up as a leather clad sex god, bestriding the stage reciting suggestive sonnets.
The show’s melodies are memorable for their style and the dance routines are superb. The script however, is no Spamalot. Whilst there’s a modicum of wit in Shakespeare’s self-proclamation that he “put the I Am into iambic pentameter” it’s extinguished by the Ensemble telling Nick Bottom “Don’t be a penis, the man is a genius”. Oh, and the act one closer has that bottom-scraper of a title, Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top. Classy, not.
Of course no one in modern theatre knows better than Nicholaw how to put on a show. The dance work is lavish and stunningly drilled and the theatre was packed with Americans who for the most part were sobbing with laughter. Packed with industry references and in-jokes, if you know your musical theatre, you’ll love the show. And confessing a guilty secret…this Brit really rather liked it too.
On Broadway until December, and then touring across the USAPhoto credit: Joan Marcus