By Patrick Hurley
Absurdity cranked all the way up to 11! That statement somewhat does justice to Something Rotten! playing now at The Ahmanson Theatre.
Set in 1590s London, the story centers around writers Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and his brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti). Nick dreams of success as a playwright, but that market seems to already have been cornered by his nemesis, the narcissistic and self aggrandizing William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) who swaggers in sequence and is always surrounded by a bevy of adoring fans. Nick expresses his feelings toward the bard in his song, “God, I hate Shakespeare,” in which he proclaims “the master doesn’t care that my ass is numb.” He dreams of knocking the bard down a peg or two, and claiming some notoriety himself. So, he goes to a soothsayer named Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), to discover what the next big thing in theater is going to be, which leads to the show-stopping big number, “A Musical,” which is akin to a Forbidden Broadway number with huge production value and original music. The number is so rousing it brought some audience members to their feet when it finished. Nick then decides to ask Nostradamus to look into the future and tell him what Shakespeare’s most successful play will be about so Nick can write it himself. Of course Nostradamus gets important details ever so slightly wrong, and what ensues is a huge comedy of errors.
This production is pure joy. Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw pushes every performance to the edge, everything is so over-the-top it will keep you smiling from start to finish. And the tap numbers are spectacular.
Photo by Joan Marcus
With a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, the satirical nature of the play and on-the-nose observational comedy mixed with big, splashy throwback musical numbers all while being set in renaissance England is a true homage to everything Mel Brooks (even a pretty funny Nazi joke) And the whole thing is completely impossible not to love.
The songs are maddeningly catchy and ridiculous, with titles like “Bottom’s gonna be on Top,” or a concert of Shakespeare in the park called “Will Power,” where the bard serenades screaming fans with songs that include lines from his sonnets and plays. And as played by Adam Pascal, Shakespeare is a rock star with a personality disorder that everyone fawns over, in fact at one point the chorus sings to Nick Bottom, “the man really knows how to write a bitchin’ play.” However, in this world, Shakespeare goes out of his way to steal the good ideas from other writers as a nod to all of the scholars and theorists who pose that there’s no way that one single man could have come up with that body of work.
Photo by Joan Marcus
The entire ensemble goes exactly as far over the top as is necessary to make this a heightened and blisteringly funny show. Rob McClure is spot-on as Nick Bottom, a down on his luck struggling artist whose desperation takes him to very strange places. Other standouts include Blake Hammond as Nostradamus, who’s larger-than-life presence pushes his moments into the realm of glorious absurdity. And as Brother Jeremiah, Scott Cote nearly steals the show with his facial expressions and effeminate swagger. As a piety preaching puritan his caustic and clearly gay alter-ego keeps accidentally revealing itself at all the wrong moments, and Cote owns every single minute he’s on stage.
This play is just a little in need of some dramaturgical assistance. It can’t withstand it’s own energy and so tonally has some issues in Act Two, and a few secondary characters who don’t seem to have much purpose. The heightened nature of the world simply can’t sustain the two and a half hour running time. This is mostly a problem with frontloading so many high octane numbers. The build of the show stops and we’re left waiting for it to catch back up to itself. This is where shows like Book of Mormon and Spamalot were more successful. They understood momentum.
This entire production, while not up to par with the truly great musical comedies of the last twenty years, certainly holds it own in the pantheon of Broadway shows that are gloriously entertaining, toe-tappingly catchy, and funny as hell.
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Opens Tuesday, November 21 at 8 p.m. Through December 31, 2017.
Performance Days and Times: ·
Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m. · Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. · Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. · No performance on Mondays.
Ticket Prices: $30 – $140 (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Tickets are available · Online at http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org · By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400 · In person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at The Music Center Group Sales: 213.972.7231 Deaf community information and charge: visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS. Center Theatre Group
Ahmanson Theatre At The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.