Something Rotten is a marvelous conflation of the Elizabethan theatrical style of late 16th century England with the American-originated theatrical form known as “the musical,” or what was called half a century ago, the “musical comedy.” The uproarious national tour is frolicking and rollicking in a splendid turn at the Orpheum.
The Bottom Brothers are partners in theater creation but they’re not getting the public adulation desired. That’s because the scene has been overtaken by a devious egomaniac known as William Shakespeare, played to fabulously arrogant effect by Daniel Beeman. That said, the older Nick Bottom (a cantankerously appealing Scott Cote) is doggedly determined to find the right formula for a big hit, whereas the younger Nigel Bottom (an appealingly dreamy Josh Grisetti) is just as determined in writing substantively rather than commercially.
However, Nick is so desperate, not to mention, jealous, that he consults soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus (a fittingly daffy Blake Hammond), who prophesies the musical genre centuries before it exists. Out of this silliness, comes the dazzling idea for Nick’s next project, Omelette: the Musical. Of course, it’s a play on words with Hamlet, Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy. One might also say it prophesies Theater of the Absurd as the rehearsal process portrayed in Something Rotten revels in irrational wordplay, outlandishly rendered in Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell’s madcap book for the musical.
Throughout this flamboyant spoof, Nostradamus channels musical chunks and phrases that mirror tunes from famous musicals, mostly American, but with a few French and British ones thrown in. This conceit goes beyond the level of clever, to the level of inspired. Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick’s music and lyrics are uncannily reminiscent of familiar tunes ranging from South Pacific to Cats. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s cast impeccably channels the exuberant musical comedic spirit with a shiny Elizabethan edge. Incongruity at its comedic and musical best!
Though Something Rotten is shamelessly cartoonish and ridiculous, it actually glistens with verbal and visual references that are a wonderful Level One offering for those new to “the Bard” and a delightfully gritty reminder to those in the know with elements of the time and place in all its glory and grotesqueness. Scatological reminders of sanitation deficiencies and the people cruelly placed in stocks. Stuffy Puritans, the brunt of much humor throughout the musical, who would shut down the theaters eventually in the coming decades. One of their sharpest protests was their fundamentalist cry against the sin of men playing women in full costume on the Elizabethan stage. Moreover, that sin was also the law! Women were excluded from acting on stage.
One nitpick is that the Shakespeare character comes off more like the gay bad boy of 1590s London, Christopher Marlowe. But it is so far fetched, it won’t stain his legacy I daresay. (Many have speculated that Shakespeare was bisexual.)
All voices are terrific but one especially stands out: Maggie Lakis as Bea, Nick’s devoted wife who’ll even risk dressing as a man get gainful employment. Lakis absolutely soars and lifts what could have been dismissed as a minor role into a marvelous performance. Gregg Barnes’s period costumes are off-the-charts gorgeous.
Through April 8
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis