Screwball comedies from Hollywood were at their height during the Great Depression. Laughter and escape seemed worth spending a hard-earned dime on. (Especially on dish night, where attendees also got a piece of dinnerware.) Perhaps that’s why our appetite for laughter seems bigger lately.
Satisfy that appetite – at least briefly – with a few hours with Something Rotten!at the Fox. The show really shouldn’t work – it’s a first effort from two brothers who had different careers, one a songwriter and the other a screenwriter for Disney, it pokes nasty at Shakespeare, and there’s plenty of mash-up in it. But the show is so deeply We-Love-Theater (another potential danger point) that the mash-up becomes homage with tongue inserted, nay, sutured, into cheek.
It’s that tongue-in-cheek that saves the show and allows the audience to cut loose about it. Two brothers are struggling to write plays while old acquaintance Will Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) has become an obnoxious superstar. The younger brother, Nigel (Josh Grisetti), is the writer, the older one, Nick (Rob McClure), more of a producer and idea guy, and it’s he who’s looking for something new. Nick’s wife, Bea (Maggie Lakis) is so desperate she wants to get a job, but he won’t have it. Instead, he seeks out a soothsayer called Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) – no, not the famous one, but his nephew – hoping he’ll predict what Shakespeare will do next, so that they can beat him to it.
The result is not only a play about breakfast, called Omelette, but the first insertion of music and dance into a play. The musical is born! Their financial backer thinks they’re mad, and heads for Shakespeare with his pounds. They accept the money instead from Shylock (Jeff Brooks), a Jewish moneylender who wants somehow to be in show business.
Nigel is at heart a poet and still composes them, meeting the beautiful Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), whose father (Scott Cote) is a Puritan, albeit one with a lovely lace collar. Arts like the theatre and poetry are, per him, a tool of the devil. That augurs poorly for young love.
Can the brothers combine eggs and Danish for the play? Why is Will sniffing around their work? Will Bea get a job? Will the Puritan change the course of true love? And, most importantly, whoever heard of singing and dancing in a play?
The story is almost beside the point here except in contributing an excuse for creating dialogue with shards of Shakespeare and lyrics with lines from musical comedies going back to the Twenties – although most of them are much more modern, like explaining that “miserable” is pronounced “miz-er-AH-bl”. Frequent theater-goers will catch a couple of bars of familiar music here and there, but not more. Some of the salutes are visual, with sailor hats that harken back to shows like South Pacific, for instance.
Much of it is very well done, although on opening night, much of the first number called “Welcome to the Renaissance” suffered from undermiking the soloist, whose voice was lost in the orchestra’s sound. It got better with “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and went on from there. Good voices all around, including a delicious a capella verse of “To Thine Own Self Be True” in the second act.
Both McClure and Grisetti are utterly delicious, funny and charming. Lakis’ role is physically challenging, but she conquers all. Ingenue Hurlbert is wonderfully winsome. Both Hammond’s Nostradamus and Brooks’ Shylock delight the audience. As to Pascal playing Shakespeare – well, this is a different Bard than you thought you knew, but chewing on scenery in this show is all in character.
It’s certainly a visually beautiful show, starting with the costume design from Gregg Barnes – it is, to call attention to one detail among many, a remarkable codpiece that Shakespeare wears, drawing attention away even from his collar, which resembles something from Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Casey Nicholaw both directed and choreographed the show. While this isn’t a dance show the way An American in Paris was, the dual roles for Nicholaw show how important the dancing is. It’s a great part of the fun.
A delightful evening, a good time, and something that both Shakespeare and musical theatre buffs can enjoy along with their drama-neutral friends and family.
through February 19
527 N. Grand