By Barry Reszel
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Even when the name is “Rotten.”
Indeed, Broadway’s Something Rotten is basking in its own sweet smell of success, still running strong in its third year on the Great White Way and spawning the national tour currently playing at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre.
Broadway in Chicago’s touring musical comedy is a mirror of its hilarious New York self (with a tad too many two-dimensional backdrops). It’s directed and choreographed by brilliant Tony Award-winning Casey Nicholaw, also the director of Disney’s Aladdin that’s wowing audiences down the street at the Cadillac Palace.
With its memorable songbook, hysterical physical comedy, superlative choreography and top onstage talent, this Something Rotten is a not-to-be-missed production for aficionados of musical theatre. If the aforementioned plaudits don’t have patrons grasping their credit cards cards awaiting Ticketmaster’s “captcha” to confirm they are not robots, the truth that this show is the ultimate send-up of the musical theatre genre ought to do the trick. To wit, click this link to enjoy Broadway’s version of the clever “A Musical.”
Musicals aren’t the only thing skewered in the uproarious production. The book by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick) sets their tale in Elizabethan England, 1595, and centers on the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, who compete theatrically with the wildly popular and egotistical William Shakespeare. The song, “God I hate Shakespeare,” warms the hearts of anyone (even some future English majors) who slogged through high school discussions of Macbeth, King Lear or a unit on sonnets. It was much ado about something. The full plot synopsis, with spoilers, may be read here.
Nick Rashad Burroughs‘ spotless portrayal of the Minstral as ostensible narrator, opens this stellar production by welcoming patrons to the timeframe via the pithy and upbeat, “Welcome to the Renaissance.” Terrific Rob McClure takes on the Brian D’Arcy James‘ Broadway role as theatre manager, playwright, director and Bard-hater Nick Bottom. He does not disappoint as the leading, taking control of the terrific ensemble cast that includes Josh Grisetti as his sweetly socially lacking, poetry-writing little brother Nigel (played on Broadway by John Cariani). Indeed, both of these fine actors are their Broadway counterparts’ equals in both their timing and vocal abilities.
So too does Adam Pascal, who gained fame as Roger in the original Broadway production (and subsequent film) of RENT, equal if not best the portrayal of Will Shakespeare that earned Christian Borle a 2015 Tony. If there’s a lacking link comparing the touring show to the Broadway original, it’s a desire for some of Heidi Blickenstaff‘s take-no-prisoners’ approach to Bea Bottom, Nick’s wife. While Maggie Lakis is a gutsy Bea, her signature song, “Right Hand Man,” among the finest in the rich songbook, needs a touch more of the oompf Blickenstaff gave it.
Other performances of note in this energetic ensemble of townspeople, puritans, theatre troupe members and more, all blending in song and dance, include the lovely Autumn Hurlburt as poetry-loving puritan Portia, Blake Hammond as the hysterical Nostradamus and Jeff Brooks as wanna-be producer Shylock.
Offstage, Musical Director/Conductor Brian P. Kennedy makes the delightful score come to life. Scott Pask’s Renaissance village scenic design well complements Costume Designer Gregg Barnes‘ magnificent varicolored explosion of Elizabethan fashions perfectly accented Josh Marquette’s period wig and hair designs.
There are few shows that explode into the audience with the wit, joy and perfect quantity of irreverence that the original musical comedy Something Rotten offers. Get thee to the ticket line and take in this unabashedly pun time or be left with egg on your face.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Something Rotten” through July 23 at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.