by MIKE CHAIKEN
There is a creative axiom that states you should never use a word in a title that may color an audience’s opinion of the effort.
For instance, you might not want to title a song, “An Ordinary Day,” because the listener may be led to believe the song is “ordinary” rather than extraordinary.
So, there was a certain amount of chutzpah on the part of the creative team behind the stage musical, “Something Rotten.”
After all, handing audiences the word “rotten” on a plate just begs for a show to be labeled a dog.
But the funny thing is (and there are lots of funny things going on at The Bushnell in Hartford when the actors take the stage), the show is far from “something rotten.”
It’s “something wonderful.” And something wonderfully funny.
At the Jan. 30 performance, the audience members– including myself– had to hold their sides because the laughter was so intense and was fired at a fast and furious clip.
The show’s writing is clever. The songs are classic Broadway—albeit delivered and written tongue in cheek. And the acting is zippy, energetic, full of physical humor, and offers up performances that follow the templates provided by other comedic trailblazers such as the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and Mel Brooks.
The show takes place during the Renaissance. William Shakespeare (played by “Rent” veteran Adam Pascal) is the rock star of the theatrical world. And Nick and Nigel Bottom (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, respectively) are struggling playwrights, jealous of the success of the Bard, who was once a lousy actor in their troupe. The show follows the efforts of the Bottom Brothers to craft something new for the 16th century—a musical. And thanks to the advice of Nostradamus—Thomas Nostradamus (played by Blake Hammond)—the new musical will be called, “Omelette”—an ode to breakfast where Danish pastries and a dead king called “Scar” figure prominently.
This is one of those shows where performance is king. The stage (by Scott Pask) is cleverly set, evoking theatrical performances of old. The costumes (by Gregg Barnes) are ornate and help put you in a renaissance frame of mind.
But the actors, dancers, and musicians are the true royalty on stage.
McClure, as the older Bottom, is the centerpiece of the evening. His use of physical humor made sure that every time he stepped on stage, you knew you were going to get a laugh. His approach to the character was familiar, but the influences were hard to pinpoint, which ensured that the character was his own. He had some of the most memorable musical and comedic moments of the evening such as “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and “Make An Omelette.”
Pascal also was sensation as the rock star known as Shakespeare. Shakespeare is essentially the villain of the show. But Pascal is able to walk a tightrope between making the Bard detestable and understandably beloved. He clearly had fun with the role, tapping into his inner Frank N. Furter (from “Rocky Horror Show.”) He also had a key moment with the number “Will Power,” which demonstrated the pop star qualities of his character and allowed the character to pepper us with some of Shakespeare’s most beloved lines.
Blake Hammond as Nostradamus had the show’s wackiest moments as he peered into the future and spit out a blender mix of plotlines from musicals that will pervade the stage in the 20th century. His lines best illustrated that the creators (book writers Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and composers Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick) are true fans of musical theater. Keep an eye out for the references to “Cats” and “A Chorus Line” and an encyclopedia of references from other iconic Broadway musicals.
Grisetti and Autumn Hurlbert (as Portia), are also great as the star-crossed lovers. They help provide a heart and center to the show while still maintaining the zany energy.
Hats off also must be made to choreographer Casey Nicholaw for his skill in parodying Broadway’s most famous choreographers– and applause to the many dancers who helped bring those parodies to life. If you want to be awe-struck watch the Rockette-style kick line during “A Musical.”
Overall, the show’s title “Something Rotten” is false advertising. It would better be called, “Something absolutely hilarious” or “something you need to get your ‘Bottom’ to straight away.’”
I give “Something Rotten” at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford four out of four stars.
The show continues through Sunday with performances on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.