THEATER REVIEW: ‘Something Rotten!’ @ PlayhouseSquare by Roy Berko

Through Sun 5/14

Theater history books refer to “The Black Crook,” which opened in 1866 in New York, as the first book musical. According to Something Rotten!, by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell (book) and Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics), now on stage at the Connor Palace, that honor should go to Omelette.

Never heard of Omelette? Unless you’ve seen the hysterically funny Something Rotten!, you don’t realize that Omelette is an in-joke at the center of a farcical plot that exposes how the Bottom brothers outsmarted the Elizabethan era’s literary rock star, William Shakespeare, in producing the world’s first musical.

Nick and Nigel Bottom, an actor and his playwright brother, live in the theatrical shadow of the Bard of Avon.  They desire to take some of the attention away from him.

How to do it? They pay a soothsayer, a maybe-relative of the famous Nostradamus, to look into the future. His predictions? Shakespeare’s greatest hit is going to be a play named Omelette and the next big trend in theater is going to be musicals, where the actors sing many of their lines. So, the duo starts to one-up Will by writing a musical play about eggs.

Their efforts result in a kick line of dancing omelettes, a silly story line and ridiculous farcical actions. The musical number “Make an Omelette,” ranks with “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers as one of the funniest dances in musical history choreography.

We observe Shakespeare as “a hack with a knack for stealing anything he can,” who swipes not only the title, but plot devices and lines from the naïve Nigel, which turn out to be “Will’s” Hamlet. (Oh, Hamlet not Omelette!)  As the soothsayer says, to audible groans, laughter and applause from the audience, “Well, I was close!”

From its opening, the creative “Welcome to the Renaissance,” to the “Finale,” the musical is classical theater gone awry, complete with showstoppers (“A Musical,” “We See the Light,” and “It’s Eggs!”), encore after encore, ridiculous sight gags, double entendres, sexual allusions and male costumes with huge codpieces, which are often used as pockets.

There are numerous references to the Bard’s plays and Broadway musicals. Anyone not familiar with either of these topics might not get all the subtext.  But even they will find enough to laugh about.

How can a show with a score which contains such titles as “The Black Death,” “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” “Welcome to the Renaissance” and ‘To Thine Own Self” be anything but be filled with ridiculous delight?

Farce is hard to perform well because of the need for broad realism where the audience laughs with the performers, not at them.  Under the deft hand of director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Disney’s Aladdin and The Book of Mormon), the cast makes the difficult look easy.

The ensemble is outstanding. Adam Pascal amuses as Shakespeare, who struts around the stage in sensual leather biker gear, the obvious superstar of the Renaissance. Rob McClure delights as the obsessive Nick Bottom whose mission in life is to out-bard the Bard. Josh Grisetti is charming as the shy poet and writer Nigel Bottom. Scott Cote swishes with gleeful ease as Brother Jeremiah. Blake Hammond is hilarious as the bumbling Nostradamus. The talented supporting performers all dance and sing with talent and enthusiasm.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Something Rotten! is a theatrical treat, a wonderfully conceived and performed musical farce. Anyone who wants to go to the theater and have a great time, unburdened by a complicated plot, listen to fun lyrics, see dynamic dancing and experience two acts of nonstop laughter.

Tickets for Something Rottenwhich runs through Sun 5/14 at the Connor Palace, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to playhousesquare.org.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

[Photo by Jeremy Daniel]

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