“SOMETHING ROTTEN!” through Sunday, Jan. 14, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main (801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
As actor Rob McClure said in a recent interview, “Something Rotten!” is a show with “something for everyone!”
The musical, now playing at the Eccles Theater through Sunday, Jan. 14, doesn’t discriminate as it pokes fun at musical-theater lovers, Shakespeare lovers and haters of both, all while maintaining a self-deprecating tone as musical-theater cliche after cliche dances its way onstage, complete with plenty of spectacle.
“Something Rotten!” premiered in April 2015 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre and tells the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, who aspire to be playwrights in the 1590s — the same time as “rock star" playwright William Shakespeare writes hit after hit. When Nick visits a soothsayer who predicts that the next big thing in theater will be stories told by singing and dancing, Nick convinces his brother to help him write the first-ever musical. But as he continues to cling to the little insights into what the soothsayer thinks is Shakespeare’s biggest hit, he runs the risk of alienating his brother and everyone around him.
The jokes fly so fast in “Something Rotten!” that there’s hardly any lag time between when the laughter for one dies down and the chuckles for the next one begin. Cracks at Shakespeare and musical theater — “Wait, so an actor is saying his lines and out of nowhere he just starts singing? … Well, that is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard,” Nick exclaims as he starts singing — are most frequent, but jokes about everything and everyone from Yoko Ono to the Black Death find their way onto the stage as well.
Audiences should note, however, that the play includes a lot of crude humor and sexual innuendo. Regardless of one’s view on the morality of such humor, the crude jokes feel like cheap shots compared with the play's ample quick wit, which was evident by the audience’s reaction on opening night at the Eccles. While the audience certainly laughed loudly at all the jokes — crude included — the moments of the most uproarious laughter and enthusiastic applause came when the creative team seamlessly wove in intelligent jokes about historical figures and events, other musicals and pop culture.
Speaking of musicals, musical-theater fans will love spotting "Something Rotten's!" many references to and bars of music from well-loved musicals, including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Mary Poppins,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Cats,” “Rent,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Hair” and more.
But beyond the jokes, “Something Rotten!” is a great display of the art form. Big ensemble song-and-dance numbers are plentiful — the choreography combines various modern styles of dance to provide a humorous contrast to the Renaissance costuming, with tap dancing being a particular highlight — and the talented ensemble is accompanied by excellent leads.
McClure, a Tony-nominated actor, performed with undeniable skill and stamina as he took the lead on number after number. His comedic timing was spot on, and he made it easy to like the character and relate to him as a man struggling to be successful at his passion and to provide for his wife.
McClure was joined onstage by his real-life wife, Maggie Lakis, who plays Nick’s wife, Bea. The two were a pleasure to watch together, likely because of their comfort with one another. Lakis matched her husband’s strong performance with ease, playing Bea — a strong-willed woman willing to do what it it takes to get the job done, including getting a job — with spunk and sass. Bea’s subplot includes her dressing up as a man to get odd jobs around town and her frequent cries for equality for women — “This is the ’90s and there’s a woman on the throne,” she declares — a topic that seems especially relevant in light of current events such as the Time’s Up movement.1 comment on this story
Other highlights included Nigel Bottom (played by Josh Grisetti) and Nostradamus (played by Blake Hammond). Grisetti plays Nick’s little brother with a sweet, quirky, innocent nature, and while that innocence is endearing, it also fuels a huge portion of the show’s innuendo. Meanwhile, it is Hammond as the soothsayer Nostradamus — not the famous Nostradamus, but his nephew — who brings a lot of the show’s nonsensical fun to life.
The Tudor-style set and detailed props, including a miniature Globe Theatre, “head sketches” for actors instead of headshots and a Shakespeare bobblehead further supported the show’s zaniness.
In the end, while “Something Rotten!” has plenty for history, musical-theater and Bard buffs to laugh about, the show is unfortunately cheapened by its crude humor.
Content advisory: “Something Rotten!” contains quite a bit of crude humor, sexual innuendo and language throughout.