Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel’s reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Pictured: Rob McClure, Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
By Rachel Weinberg
Bottoms up! The national tour of the hilarious, clever, and grin-inducing SOMETHING ROTTEN! has arrived at the Oriental Theatre in a first-rate production that’s worth celebrating. There’s absolutely nothing rotten about director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s fast-paced and beautifully performed staging. While SOMETHING ROTTEN! may be unsubtle in its humor and its desire to please musical theater lovers, that’s precisely why the show works. This is unapologetic, no-holds-barred entertainment. With Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick’s music and lyrics and a book by Karey and John O’Farrel, the storytelling is original and witty.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a rarity in the modern musical theater landscape: it’s a completely new story. The show transports audiences to 1595 in which we meet brothers and playwrights Nick and Nigel Bottom. Scott Pask’s set and Greg Barne’s terrific costumes immerse us in the wacky, wonderful world of this rather anachronistic 1590s. As we soon learn, Nick and Nigel struggle to compete with the esteemed and unabashedly cocky William Shakespeare. In an attempt to get ahead, Nick seeks the advice of the soothsayer Nostradamus, who predicts that he should write the world’s first musical. It’s important to add that Nostradamus delivers this tidbit in one of the greatest showstoppers I’ve seen recently. This is the number “A Musical,” in which the soothsayer instructs Nick in the ways of the art form—with a mountain of musical references included. It’s a joyful, winking, precisely choreographed spectacle that embodies the endlessly energetic spirit of the entire show.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! takes tons of stamina to execute—and this all-star touring cast makes it all look easy. The three leading men were all replacements for the Broadway production, and it’s fantastic to see them here on tour. Rob McClure nails Nick Bottom’s quirky personality mix of self-confident and frantic, and he wins us over immediately with his first solo “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” He’s well-matched by Maggie Lakis as his wife Bea (fun fact: McClure and Lakis are married) who balances determination and charisma. Josh Grisetti is sweet and charming as Nigel Bottom. He’s awkward and endearing, especially around his love interest Portia. Autumn Hurlbert plays Portia, and she is a veritable energizer bunny —bubbly and busting out expertly delivered musical notes (she also has one of the most distinctive and effective onstage shrieks I’ve ever heard). As Shakespeare, Adam Pascal mines the role for comic gold and sells the character’s obnoxious, larger-than-life persona. It’s a different and exciting side of Pascal, who’s known for more serious roles—particularly as Roger Davis in RENT. Pascal’s flawless vocals, of course, remain intact here too.
The supporting players in SOMETHING ROTTEN! are equally animated. Blake Hammond brings down the house as Nostradamus and helps make “A Musical” the huge success it should be. Scott Cote plays Portia’s father and staunch Puritan Brother Jeremiah with flamboyant perfection. Though Brother Jeremiah is pious, he can’t help letting innuendoes constantly slip—and Cote milks these double entendres for all they’re worth. Jeff Brooks is also fantastic as the wannabe theater producer Shylock. The entire ensemble adds to the immense energy of SOMETHING ROTTEN! They also harmonize like nobody’s business.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! feels fresh and provides non-stop fun. This touring production fully embraces the musical’s spirit and delivers a night that’s a total blast. This show thrives because it’s wonky and silly, but that energy is delivered earnestly by all the players involved. It would be impossible to leave SOMETHING ROTTEN! without a smile. Don’t throw tomatoes on the stage as they did in Shakespeare’s time—go see it and enjoy.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! plays through