Chicago Theatre Review
Welcome to the Renaissance
Something Rotten – Broadway in Chicago
Several years ago, brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, had a clever idea for a musical comedy. They patched together a rough storyline and wrote a couple of clever songs and shopped it around. Ultimately they hired a topnotch Broadway director and a handful of talented actors to present the show in a 2014 workshop. The musical met with such wild acclaim that an out-of-town tryout was deemed unnecessary. Within a year, this colorful, splashy, feel-good show opened directly on Broadway. The libretto, co-written by John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick, now featured a full score by the Kirkpatrick brothers. It was noteworthy, not only for being uproariously and unabashedly funny, and a bit naughty, as well as sporting a score of toe-tapping tunes overflowing with wise and witty lyrics. This show was also completely original.
The musical spun a nimble tale about Nick and Nigel Bottom, poor, struggling sibling playwrights during the Renaissance. They continually attempted to write a play that would draw London theatre patrons away from William Shakespeare’s mega popular productions and to their own hit dramas. After Nick learns that the subject of his latest play has just been stolen by The Bard, he desperately seeks the advice of a soothsayer. He finds Nostradamus wandering the street and pays him for his predictions. Nick asks what will be theatre’s biggest money-maker in the future? Then he inquires what will be Shakespeare’s greatest hit of all time.
Nostradamus convinces Nick, in an enormous, full-cast production number, that he could be responsible for writing and producing a first: “A Musical.” For the avid theatergoer, especially anyone who knows and loves Broadway shows, this number will make them explode with glee. The song is chock-full of ingenious references to dozens of big hit musical comedies from the past. Donning sailor hats, for instance, the male ensemble pay homage to “Anything Goes,” “Dames at Sea,” “On the Town,” and every other nautical-themed musical comedy. There are signature dance moves, lyrical references and melodic excepts from iconic shows, like “A Chorus Line” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Fosse musicals, such as “Pippin,” “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago,” are parodied. Delightful references to “Oliver,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady” and even the Rockettes abound.
Then, Nostradamus tells Nick that Shakespeare’s greatest hit will be something called “Omelette.” It has something to do with a Danish and it’s about a prince, a king, his queen and a lot of other people who all die in the end. Thus, in the second act of the musical, there’s another huge production number called “Make an Omelette,” with salutes to “Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” Les Miserables,” “Gypsy,” various Sondheim classics and many, many other familiar shows. In short, this musical is a funny, adult theater-lover’s fantasy.
This National Tour is dynamically directed and energetically choreographed by Broadway master and Tony Award-winner, Casey Nicholaw (who’s currently represented in Chicago with his long-running “Aladdin”). Nicholaw was responsible for guiding the workshop of this show, as well as the magnificent original Broadway production. He’s joined on the road by musical director and orchestra conductor Brian P. Kennedy, who makes this joyful score burst with life. Scott Pask’s scenic design, while heavy on backdrops, is colorful and very Tudor-looking. The production’s original costume designer, Gregg Barnes, has recreated his gaudy, flashy, intensely chromatic Elizabethan fashions for this production. The wardrobe features a colorful kaleidoscope of costumes, from rakish ruffs and exaggerated codpieces to fabulous farthingales and boots equipped with taps, for dancing. Barnes’ creations are deliciously topped by Josh Marquette’s wig and hair designs that add period flavor.
This stellar production stars Adam Pascal, one of the original stars of “Rent,” as Will Shakespeare. While creating a perfectly punk and well-sung rock star of a playwright, Pascal just doesn’t have the same pizzazz and dazzling over-the-top essence that earned Christian Borle a Tony Award for his Broadway portrayal of this character. Also very good, but not quite as impressive as her Broadway predecessor, Maggie Lakis makes the most of her role as Bea, Nick Bottom’s hardworking wife. Her plaintive song, “Right Hand Man,” is very good, if vocally thin.
However, handsome Rob McClure, so impressive on Broadway in the title role of “Chaplin,” along with many other terrific performances, is magnificent and captivating as Nick Bottom. He’s a charismatic leading man who proves he’s comfortable taking the reins, easily driving every aspect of this show. He’s joined by the gifted Josh Grisetti as his nerdy, poetry-penning younger brother Nigel Bottom. Both men possess finely skilled comic timing and beautifully trained voices, often blending together in such comic songs as “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and “To Thine Own Self.” McClure soars in his act I finale, “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” as well as his act II musical description of his first musical, “It’s Eggs!” Grisetti lends his vocal talent, together with lovely Autumn Hurlbert, as Portia, his Puritan sweetheart, to “We See the Light” and the gorgeous ballad, “I Love the Way.”
The hardworking ensemble does quadruple duty, playing actors, religious fanatics, chorus boys and girls and countless other roles. They sing, act, tap and strut their way through this hilarious romp, truly making this musical absolutely sing and dance. Nick Rashad Burroughs is a particular highlight, opening the show as the Minstrel and leading the ensemble through the rousing earworm, “Welcome to the Renaissance.” Other notable actors in this production include a wonderfully funny Blake Hammond as Nostradamus; Scott Cote as prissy Puritan, Brother Jeremiah; Jeff Brooks as ardent theatre fan, Shylock; and Joel Newsome as a persnickety Lord Clapham.
For sheer escapism and unbridled joy, this musical is more fun and festive than a trip to the Renaissance Faire. It’s filled with lusty wenches and randy men in tights. It boasts vivid color, kinetic choreography, broad comedy laced with adult double entendres and loads of homages to other musicals. And it’s original—no juke box musical or rehash of a popular movie here. It’s witty and sublimely entertaining, and where else can you hear a dizzy little ditty celebrating “The Black Death”? A comedy that imagines The Bard as a fawning, self-centered rock star is funny enough; but add to this a pair of bumbling brothers trying to beat Shakespeare at his own game, and you have an exciting new entertainment for everyone. Here for a limited engagement, all musical theatre fans should rush out right now for tickets to the one musical that’ll truly speak them and welcome them to the Renaissance.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 11-23 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the BIC Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com