Yes, what better time to brush up on your Shakespeare than these perilous days, as well as all things musical theater with “Something Rotten,” now on tour and a strong cast bringing down the house at the Academy of Music in Philly last week. The book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O’Farrell and the score by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, grabbed 10 Tony nominations.
Nick Rashad Burroughs sings the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” as the Academy of Music stage blooms in Elizabethan splendor. In addition to knowing your Bardian references, this is a grab-bag of high-low comedy with a band of rowdy thespians, with codpieces and bodices bursting with double entendre, who also happen to be uniformly fine singer-dancer-actors.
At the Globe Theater, it is all hail Will who is pumping out hit after hit and meanwhile the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, are trying to write their own show. “Why is he THE Bard, and not just A Bard, ” he fumes and launches into the number “I Hate Shakespeare.”
Nick uses his house money to consult a soothsayer who tells him what Shakespeare’s next hit will be and to predict what will be a hit trend in the theater that would eclipse Will’s success. Nick’s wife sees he is sinking and finds employment posing as a man to prove to Nick she should be allowed onstage. To prove she can act even though women are not allowed on the 16th century stage, she dresses up and gets jobs posing as man.
Meanwhile, desperate for a hit show, Nick goes to a soothsayer Nostradamus who conjures a torrent of images of future Broadway hits- when Nick tells him that the concept of people bursting into sung dialogue that it sounds ‘miserable’ Nostradamus ‘It’s pronounced ‘Miserables’ the sassy asides from every show from The Sound of Music, Fiddler, West Side, Chorus Line, Cabaret, Phantom and inevitably Cats (the biggest laugh line). The show also parodies dance from iconic choreographers from Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett and of course Bob Fosse. by director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw.
Rob McClure is the comedically combustible Nick and Maggie Lakis, the level-headed Bea, have wonderful chemistry that carry some sketchy scenes. Josh Grisetti is the gentle Nigel who falls in love with Portia, the Puritan preacher’s daughter. As Portia, Autumn Hurlbert had a few pitch problem getting to her powerhouse belter range and but meanwhile she and Grisetti have sweet, comic moments as clandestine lovers.
Hark, the showstoppers keep coming in this musical starting with the full company barnburner led by Blake Hammond’s Nostradamus leading the full cast in the barnburner ‘A Musical’ to the rousingly sincere ‘To Thine Own Self.”
‘Will Power’ and ‘Hard to be the Bard’ looks right out of a Chippendales routine with leather clad chorus boys bumping and grinding (work on those turns fellas). Adam Pascal is hilariously over the top as the preening superstar playwright. But from the sharp tap numbers to a torrent of dance funsies from a swinging 60s dances to a baroque twerk, Simply Rotten has the time-traveling grooves and moves.
Conductor-keyboardist Brian Kennedy leads the 14-piece orchestra (half are local musicians) and has a big sound (that is amplified but not flatten out as can often happen in the Academy) and there is such musical variety in this score. And kudos to Gregg Barnes’ costume designs of Elizabethan couture that just keeps giving. “Something Rotten” could be a show of scene stealers and all of the leads have those moments, but director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw keeps all of the star turns admirably balanced in an altogether boffo-buffa, high spirited ensemble show.