With all the happenings in the world, sometimes what’s needed is some light diversion to entertain and put a smile on people’s faces. To that end, Something Rotten! does deliver. Coming off of a 742-performance run on Broadway, the national tour has landed in San Francisco for a three and a half week run (until September 10th) at the Orpheum Theater. It’s a comedic look at late 16th-century London and the rock-star status of The Bard, William Shakespeare (played here by Adam Pascal, who also played the original cast of Rent as Roger Davis).
With all of London swooning at Will’s every word, two playwrights: Nick (played by Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti) are struggling to come up with any idea for a play of their own. Nick without inspiration and in desperation seeks out the help of a soothsayer (Blake Hammond) – who turns out to be the historical Nostradamus’ nephew, Thomas. Looking into the future for “the next big thing on the stage,” Thomas overshoots the mark and reveals the big thing to be musicals. His visions lead him into a fabulous song and dance number which is a who’s who of musical theater history. If you’ve ever wanted to geek-check your friends to see how versed they are in musicals, by the end of Something Rotten’s first act – you’ll know. From Cats to South Pacific to Phantom of the Opera to Avenue Q and most points in-between.
There’s a blossoming love between Nigel and the local Puritan leader’s daughter, Portia (Autumn Hurlbert). There’s Nick’s wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) who will do any job she can find to help make ends meet so that he can continue to write his plays. And amongst it all is the Bard strutting around – even giving a performance in a local park. To which Nick exclaims, “Shakespeare in the Park?” That’s the kind of jokes you’ll get; this is no show to change the the history of theater (not every show can be Hamilton), but it is a great way to spend an evening. The songs are catchy, the plot straightforward, and the two acts over two and a half hours goes by before you know it.
The cast’s performances were fine, with Grisetti’s Nigel Bottom amongst the men and both Hurlbert and Lakis amongst the women giving the best vocal performances of the night. There seemed to be some audio challenges, both with the opening song, sung by The Minstrel (Nick Rashad Burroughs), and then the first few songs by Pascal sounded muddy over the Orpheum’s sound system and the clarity of the lyrics not as crisp as many of the others. By act 2, things did improve by the time Pascal breaks into the number, Hard to be the Bard, where Shakespeare bemoans how hard it is to be him. That latter nitpick I expect will be dialed in by the sound crew within the first few nights.
Nearly every character in the play has a reflection from Shakespeare’s plays (like Nick Bottom is the comedic relief character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Bea is a spin on Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing). One other notable is the local moneylender to whom Nick is in debt to, a jew named Shylock (who is thrilled to hear that Shakespeare might put him into one of his plays). With everything going on in the world at the moment, it’s a delicate line that some of the jokes play with, but they hit more often than they miss. In our performance one show-stopping moment occurred when the soothsayer is divining future hit scenes, which includes a nun, and singing children… running away from the Nazis. Nick asks if the Naxi’s are the good guys or the bad guys. Nostradamus replies, “I’m not sure, but it seems important that we get that one right.”- to that the audience cut loose with a three minute ovation. So at least one solid statement was made, and for the rest of the evening, it was time to just relax and enjoy some escapism and to entertain ourselves with how many in-jokes we could catch in the first pass.
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