How can you dislike a Broadway musical that employs a tap kick line by guys in those puffy Elizabethan breeches? This delightfully silly scene occurs...well, honestly, I don't quite remember where it occurs in this inconsequential show, but you'll see it somewhere during the performance. It's awfully funny and worthy of its applause. Along the way you'll hear numerous lame sex jokes, enough goofy references to past Broadway musicals, and a satiric homage to the Bard himself. It's all of a piece, if you check your brain at the door and just go with it. This is a “musical.” Get over it!
In the tradition of The Drowsy Chaperone (though not nearly in its class) and borrowing heavily from Tom Stoppard's movie Shakespeare in Love (even farther from its class) and Mel Brooks' seminal The Producers (whose lunacy can't be copied), Something Rotten truly owes its existence to Gerard Alessandrini's Forbidden Broadway, that perennial parody of everything showbiz. Delivering bitch-slaps to divas and divos, composers to choreographers, Alessandrini's satire is spoof raised to the empyrean. Everybody gets skewered. The creators of Rotten (book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell; music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick) have zeroed in on the take-no-prisoners style, but have misplaced the wicked wit with limp jokes without punch or much surprise.
That's not to say the show isn't fun. Cleverly crafted by a phalanx of Tony-winning Broadway pros – director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon), scenic designer Scott Pask (The Pillowman), costumer Gregg Barnes (The Drowsy Chaperone), lighting designer Jeff Croiter (Peter and the Starcatcher) – who have worked themselves into a frenzy to entertain us, the musical succeeds in spite of itself. Think of it as the most delicious cotton candy imaginable. While you're enjoying the hell out of it, it melts away. Once you finish it, you can't even remember if you ate it, let alone its taste.
The show is generic and its satire too easy. Completely breezy and time-filling, I bet you won't remember it in two weeks, other than the character of glam-rock Shakespeare who's the show's true original touch. (Understudy Daniel Beeman steps in during the Houston run while Adam Pascal [Rent] has a needed vacation. Beeman is quite the revelation, all charisma and glistening pecs.) Here, the great dramatist is ego rampant, a sexy rock star with a posse of backup boys. He amps up the crowd of groupies who hold candles of gratitude, while he steals other playwright's ideas and best lines – especially those of our brotherly heroes, Nick and Nigel Bottom (Rob McClure and Kyle Nicholas Anderson), who need a “new idea” for their breakout hit to get them out of poverty and into the limelight.
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That's when Nick hires a soothsayer, Nostradamus's wayward nephew (Blake Hammond), to predict the next “big thing” in the theater. When Nostradamus sings “A Musical,” Something Rotten zooms into overdrive with a huge production number that zips through the Great American Musical. (Well, all the Great American Musicals that BBVA Broadway at the Hobby's patrons would recognize without strain.) All the classics get a passing mention or a quick signature image: Annie, Sound of Music, West Side Story, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Chicago, My Fair Lady, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, A Chorus Line, Les Miserables, etc. It's Rotten's never-fail, sure-fire hit, a Busby Berkeley, frenzied kaleidoscopic romp. In case you missed any reference, there's the Second Act's “Make an Omelet” which reprises any classic show not covered.
The Kirkpatrick brothers' music and lyrics serve this dizzy burlesque with style and panache, if no great distinction. Easy listening, Broadway style, the songs run the gamut from belting ballads, comedy patter routines, to rousing dance numbers. We've seen them all before, heard them all before, in much better shows, but for some reason we forgive the songs in this context, mostly because there is no context. The songs serve their purpose and are performed lovingly by the hard-working cast, but nothing sticks in your ear, except the opening number, the best in the show, “Welcome to the Renaissance.” It has my favorite lyric: “Welcome to the Renaissance, where our printing press has fancy fonts...” You may not hear the words over the swell of the chorus, but for some undefinable reason, I find the rhyme irresistibly urbane and witty. Would that the rest of the show been as pin-prick precise.
This is the kind of show you wish were better. It should be with all the talent involved and the bad-ass idea of screwing Shakespeare. I'd quote the Bard, but what's the use?
Something Rotten continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Through June 11. 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org. $30 to $90.