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REVIEW: Something Rotten Smells Great! (Orpheum/HTT)

The cast of the Something Rotten national tour. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but the musical Something Rotten playing at the Orpheum Theatre is simply delightful. John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick wrote the book for this Broadway musical, and Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote the lyrics and music. The musical debuted on Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards; although it only walked home with one for acting (Fun Home did the Tony sweeps that year), the show is quite the wonderful comedy. Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw has created a wonderfully campy, often show-stopping musical spoofing Shakespeare and most of the award-winning musicals of the last 70 years.

The cast of the Something Rotten national tour. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The story is set in 1595 and follows the Bottom brothers Nick and Nigel, who are struggling to find success in the theatrical world. What stands in their way? No less than their wildly popular contemporary, William Shakespeare. Nick humorously rages against Shakespeare with the song “God, I hate Shakespeare”. Then, while he’s seeking out ideas for a hit show, a soothsayer named Nostradamus (nephew of the famous Nostradamus) tells Nick that “musicals” are the next big thing in theatre. When Nick’s proposed musical on the “Black Death” falls flat, Nostradamus gives him some more clues: the plot of Shakespeare’s upcoming (and biggest play), Hamlet. Alas, due to an error in the soothsaying, the name comes out as Omelet.

Before you know it, Nick is putting together the “ultimate” breakfast musical staring the moody Danish prince, complete with songs like “It’s Eggs!” and “Make an Omelette”. Nigel rejects the commercialization, instead writing the real and poetic Hamlet.  Shakespeare, meanwhile, schemes to steal Nigel’s creation. Throw in some romantic subplots, and it all pulls together in a happy ending.

Rob McClure plays a convincing, frustrated Nick with a frantic mannerism reminiscent of Nathan Lane. Josh Grisetti does a nice job as the sensitive and lovesick Nigel, who adores his brother but finds it difficult to stand up to him. Adam Pascal slays in the role of the self-absorbed rock star Shakespeare, exuding charm even when stealing from the earnest Nigel.  Maggie Lakis also shines as Nick’s plucky, nearly perfect wife.  Autumn Hurlbert plays a poetry-loving Puritan who nicely complements the lovestruck Nigel.

Adam Pascal as Shakespeare with the cast of Something Rotten. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

There are several sensational musical numbers, especially the outstanding “A Musical”, which parodies so many so many classic musicals in lickety-split fashion that it is impossible to identify all of them, but it is definitely fun to try.  The musical number in Nick’s musical Omelet, “Something Rotten!” and “Making an Omelet” are so good that I was disappointed when Shakespeare brought the musical to a premature end. The only disappointing number was the “Finale” which just did not have the pizzazz of the other big dance numbers.

There are a lot of insider jokes for those who are knowledgeable of both Shakespeare’s plays and the modern musicals.  But even those with just a smattering of knowledge will enjoy this enthusiastic musical.

Something Rotten closes Sunday, April 8 with 1 PM and 6:30 PM performances at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.

Bev Wolfe