Sometimes a pot shot is just too easy. Sometimes it lands right on the bull’s eye. “Something Rotten,” the title of the new musical at the Ahmanson, offers a quiver full of justifications for a critic to lay into it. Before, let me also tell you that there were moments when I was grinning broadly and felt like dancing on the stage with the ensemble. Confused? Stick with me.
“Something Rotten” is an open rip off of Shakespeare and all the musicals you know but may not have actually seen. Relax, it is so derivative you will get all the references whether or not they are familiar to you. I could try to tease you with an outline of the story. But why bother? Basically it is about two brothers, just like the creators of this musical, named Bottoms — the opportunities for fourth grade humor abound — and Shakespeare, a 16th century rock star with tight shiny pants and a six pack, who keeps stealing the more talented brother’s lines. You have Shylock who tosses off Yiddish phrases for the great aunt from New Jersey, and Thomas Nostradamus, whose soothsaying is a bit shaky, predicting that Shakespeare’s next greatest hit will be Omelet, and the Bottoms should make it a musical. More pre-adolescent and adolescent humor abound.
The music and dance sample every musical you’ve seen and heard. Since it is satire it is “fair use” so there aree no copyright issues there. Shakespeare may be turning in his grave, but there is nothing he can do about it either. When you leave the theater you realize that every number is essentially like every other number you watched and every other musical you have ever seen. “Something Rotten” steals from itself.
But I said I was grinning, tapping my foot, and fantasizing dancing on stage. That, my dear friends, is because the production values are terrific. The talented cast holds nothing back. It pours itself into the performance with energy and precision. It is slick, entertaining, and totally forgettable. Should you have an adolescent who is pie eyed over musicals, the scatological references are tolerable and the quality of the performances does set a high bar. For myself, I prefer something with a little more meat on its bones.