Since captivating Broadway when it first opened in April 2015 with superstars Christian Borle and Brian d’Arcy James, “Something Rotten!” has proven to be more than just a musical. The touring production of the Casey Nicholas-directed and choreographed show, which will play at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through December 31st, masterfully engages its audience, culminating over and over again in a feverish pitch, earning resounding echoes of laughter and a series of standing ovations.
In fact, one would be in for a formidable challenge to find a show that not only keeps its cresting momentum throughout, but seems to grow to unfathomable levels, holding in its palms an audience who may have just seen the very pinnacle of comedy. Certainly, it’s a testament to John O’Farrell, as well as Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, whose script, music, lyrics, and overall vision took four-and-a-half years to gloriously manifest. And, with Casey Nicholaw at the helm to actualize the Kirkpatrick brothers’ metaphorical Cornwall story — represented by Nick and Nigel, the Bottom Brothers — this absurd reverie shines amid a very referential reality, wherein the mundane becomes brilliant as a result of a slight miscalculation or two. It is truly an entrancing farce of errors.
The narrative takes place in the 1590s with Shakespeare reimagined as an oft-plagiarizing, leather-pants-wearing David Bowie-ish rock star, lyricizing in iambic pentameter for his swooning admirers. Adam Pascal plays the world-class Will, who saunters with his around-the-neck frills, thrills with his quill, and is always being seen at the top of the bill. Of course, Shakespeare’s genius gives the playwright Bottom brothers the shakes, particularly the envious Nick (Rob McClure), who can’t stand to see his own insecurities juxtaposed against the bard’s success. This compels the distraught and desperate Nick to consult Nostradamus’ nephew Thomas (Blake Hammond) to foresee and purloin Shakespeare’s next hit, putting to use divinations that corral a hodgepodge of the wave of the future (“A Musical”) centered on a misconstrual of “Hamlet.” As such, “Omelette” is foretold, and what follows is a mellifluous medley of harmonizing hard-boiled eggs, onions, peppers, and skillets mixed with bits and pieces of ham and musical history.
As anyone who has cooked the quintessential omelette can attest, the final product, inclusive of glistening golden folds and a garden-variety surprise inside, is not any more satisfying than the journey. “Something Rotten!” sates all five senses due to not only the music and direction, but Scott Pask’s immersive scenic design, Gregg Barnes’ meticulous costumes — which take us back more than 400 years – and the performers who have as much deserving fun as the audience. It’s not enough to say that they’re all incredibly talented — because they are; it’s the fact that their on-stage ambition is bottomless, melding in perfect collaboration, just as the ingredients that go into a good-old-fashioned omelette.
As William Shakespeare, Adam Pascal metamorphosizes into the rip-roaring rapscallion, with a vocal snarl that both soothes and ignites the inspiration to mirror his footsteps and create works of indelible prose. His burst onto the scene during “Will Power” evokes both the modern-day obsession with celebrity and the carefree sensibility of the 16th-17th century. Pascal also wins over attendees with his rendition of “Hard to Be the Bard,” as he grouses in facetiously ludicrous fashion, ripping his shirt in flawless time with the line, “It’s sexy, but its hard,” and utilizing just the right amount of whimsically whiny voice inflections about being the highly sought after king of his generation.
Rob McClure ingeniously takes overwrought cynicism to new heights as Nick Bottom (who is interestingly named after one of Shakespeare’s characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). His energy and comic infectiousness can be felt by the furthest person away from the stage, as he grabs his head in exasperated agony, impudently singing, “God, I Hate Shakespeare” (which, like many of the numbers, expertly incorporates the magnificent ensemble) and tap-dances with great skill, besting Pascal’s Shakespeare in a stage-floor-toe-punching duel. Yet, there is a soft side to McClure’s Nick Bottom, who is a beneficiary of a supportive and loyal wife named Bea, portrayed by Maggie Lakis, who flourishes as both a versatile performer and singer during “Right Hand Man.”
As the sensitive, diamond-in-the-rough poet with hilariously palpable stress-management issues is Josh Grisetti as Nigel Bottom. Notwithstanding some intended light awkwardness, Grisetti’s Nigel, who is a huge fan of Shakespeare and the wonderment of words, is the heart of the production. Moreover, Nigel serendipitously finds his elusive love match, Portia, who is played by Autumn Hurlbert. Her belting style interweaves nicely with Grisetti’s tranquil tone (e.g., “I Love the Way”), and the two are responsible for some of the show’s sweetest moments. Not to mention, Hurlbert’s character, who is the puritan daughter of an in-the-closet, unintentionally double-entendre-speaking father called Brother Jeremiah (played to maximum effect by Scott Cote’s effortless characterizations), is both touching and funny in how excitable she is by creatively constructed sentences.
Arguably, though, the most charismatic and memorable portrayal belongs to Blake Hammond’s Thomas Nostradamus. Hammond is a craftsman of fine humor, and has a knack for being responsive to the crowd’s mood. Similar to how his role can peer into the future, Hammond is able to augur the mood of the crowd and the exact manner in which he can say his lines to evoke the biggest possible response. Undoubtedly, O’Farrell and the Kirkpatrick brothers’ cleverness has something to do with it, but Hammond is specifically exceptional during “A Musical,” as he fabulously emotes the objective ridiculousness of spontaneously breaking into song, while gyrating on stage, dancing in unison, and making one amazing allusion after another to “Music Man,” “Rent,” “Chicago,” “Evita,” and more. Eventually, Nostradamus’ visions become the constituent parts that contribute to “Make an Omelette” – a surreal escapade of the highest magnitude, where eggs are beaten into spectacular submission amidst uproariously out-of-context musical excerpts.
The sensational production also features Jeff Brooks as the amiable Shylock, Joel Newsome as the extravagant Lord Clapham, and a tremendous ensemble – led by the charming Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel — who hoof about and punctuate songs, like “Welcome to the Renaissance,” “The Black Death,” and “We See the Light” with intoxicating fervor and panache. Overall, “Something Rotten!” earns the absolute highest recommendation for not only entertaining unremittingly, but for earning ear-to-ear smiles, belly-aching guffaws, and a boundless admiration from its willing audience who won’t have a better time at the theatre.
For more information about “Something Rotten!” at the Ahmanson Theatre, please visit centertheatregroup.org