Last night Puffles and Honey attended their first Broadway musical!
Something Rotten is a shamelessly silly parody of Broadway musicals and outrageous spoof of all things Shakespeare. It is a big, brash meta-musical studiously fashioned in the mold of Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Producers and The Book of Mormon, loaded with crowd-pleasing showstoppers, puerile gags and an infectious love of the form it so playfully skewers.
It’s OK to go to the theater just to have fun!
(On musicals) An actor is saying his lines and then, out of nowhere, he just starts singing? That is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard.
While it’s been done countless times before, watching a musical that pokes fun at the very idea of a musical is irresistibly funny. The first-act high point is a riotous self-parodying number simply titled “A Musical”, which presents with mounting excitement everything that’s ludicrous and wonderful about the form at its most ebullient — people bursting into spontaneous song; perky chorus members thronging the stage; an explosion of tappers, fan-dancing showgirls and a kickline; even the magnificently cheesy tradition of the encore reprise.
The year is 1595 and the English Renaissance is in full flower in Tudor London. A clever opening number presents some of the marvels of this wondrous age – Francis Bacon, clutching a chicken to let us know that he’s found a way to freeze meat; Sir Walter Raleigh, aristocratic nose in the air and puffing on a pipe filled with tobacco, the marvelous substance he brought back from his travels to the new world; and all the brilliant playwrights of the age, like Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Dekker and John Middleton.
The Shakespearean references come thick and fast, along with the winking nods to a whole plethora of modern musicals, even the Lion King! As for Cats and Les Miserables, they are the subject of frequent taunts. Luckily the laughs in this cheeky comedy don’t require comprehensive recall of classical theater or knowledge of other musicals or a particular receptiveness for arcane Broadway in-jokes.
The show revolves around William Shakespeare and two rival brothers named Nick and Nigel who hate The Bard and vow, in retaliation for his success, to ruin him by producing the world’s first musical.
This involves a seemingly endless jumble of characters named Shylock, Portia and a soothsayer called Thomas Nostradamus who predicts the future — overpriced drinks in the lobby and singing the dialogue onstage instead of speaking it, in shows about street gangs, feathered Follies showgirls, sailors wearing hats in the South Pacific, a chorus line kicking in unison wearing 8-by-10s…
There is even a 16th century censor, who hates the idea of decadent musicals despite a daughter named Portia (Kate Reinders). Nigel (John Cariani) loves Portia at the risk of ending up in the town stocks. Nick (Brian d’Arcy James) has a wife named Bea who also sees a musical revolution as a way to banish men from playing women’s roles on the stage. And then there is Shakespeare himself, who turns out to be a rock star replete with leather codpiece.
Danced and sung by Tony winner Christian Borle, Shakespeare stops the show cold tapping out the titles of Shakespeare’s plays in a rousing production number called “Hard to be the Bard” that includes the lyrics “I got the skill and the will/To thrill you with my quill.”
The cast of Something Rotten has collectively won more comedy awards than any other group of wackos on any other show in town.