Friday, May 8, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Something Rotten!

A Play By Any Other Name -- Like A Musical --  Would Smell As Sweet
By Lauren Yarger
Shakespeare's a rock star, but his closest rivals, the Bottom Brothers, have come up with a great new concept to battle his fame with all of those plays -- a musical!

That's the zany concept behind Something Rotten!, the new hit musical conceived by brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who write the music and lyrics. Karey has written the music for some Disney films and Grammy Award winner Wayne has written for pop, country and Christian music stars. Karey teams with John O'Farrell, one of the United Kingdom's best know comic authors and script writers, for the very funny book. Kudos also to the marketing team, which prior to opening, displayed banners on the theater with pull-out quotes from the New York Times saying, "We Haven't See it Yet!"

It's 1590 England, home of the Renaissance, and the theatrical troupe run by manager Nick Bottom (Brian D'Arcy James) and his poet/writer brother , Nigel (John Cariani), plan to produce a brand new play about Richard II! They were inspired by the success of their theatrical rival, Shakespeare (a hysterical Christian Borle) who made a killing with Richard III and now is the talk of all England. But blast! -- the bard decides to go back in time and writes his own version of Richard II, which of course, is a monster hit like everything else the swaggering, scream/faint-producing writer of iambic pentameter does.

Facing economic collapse, especially when loan shark Shylock (Gerry Vichi) comes to collect his debt, Nick is desperate to find a way to provide for the troupe and his feisty wife, Bea (and energetic and amusing Heidi Blickenstaff), who offers to get a job. It's the '90s, but job opportunities for women still are a bit scarce for women in Elizabethan England, so Bea has to don a disguise to pass as a man. (Gregg Barnes designs the many costumes; Josh Marquette does hair and Melagros Medina-Cerdeira does makeup).

For help, Nick consults the most famous fortune teller of the time, Nostradamus (Brad Oscar), to try to get a beat on what Shakepeare's most famous play of all time will be. He'll just produce it first! Nostradamus gets some images from the future and discovers something called a "musical" will be all the rage, where actors suddenly burst into song for no apparent reason and dance around the stage.

Nick immediately sets to creating the phenomenon, but the visions Nostradamus gets are a bit sketchy resulting in bits and pieces of many musicals coming together in an extravaganza entitled, "Omelette, the Musical" (thanks to a mispronunciation of Hamlet.) Theater lovers will thoroughly enjoy the scrambled mess that brings to mind the villager's telling of the history of Joseph Smith's religion in The Book of Mormon with a bunch of tap-dancing eggs in the mix (Casey Nicholaw directs and choreographs).

Writer Nigel is a bit hesitant with the ridiculous sounding material for Omelette and would much rather develop his idea for a man tortured with asking himself whether he should be or not be. He also has his mind on something else: forbidden love with the beautiful poetry-loving Portia (Kate Reinders -- think young Kristin Chenoweth), the daughter of uptight Puritan Brother Jeremiah (Brooks Ashmanskas), who wants to shut down all the theaters because of their immoral nature (this despite the fact that he seems to  be repressing some homosexual lust of his own. Of course. Just once, I would love to see a "Christian" character on stage who is not a repressed homosexual.....)

Meanwhile, there's a ridiculously funny concert given by Shakespeare in the park (what a concept!) where Borle excels at shaking his stuff and feeling the love while presenting his latest sonnet in musical form.

Much mayhem ensues when Shakespeare goes under cover as an actor in the Bottom Brothers troupe.

Something Rotten! is anything but. It's fresh and funny, with plenty of out-loud laughs and a couple of showstopping numbers (Phil Reno directs the music and provides vocal arrangements). Nicholaw achieves spot-on performances from D'Arcy James, Borle and Blickenstaff  as well as supporting characters like the comedic Peter Bartlett, as Lord Clapham, the Bottom Brothers' reluctant patron. The one place the director misses is in the miscasting of playwright Cariani (Almost Maine) in the role of Nigel, where "indeed, he does not fit" to quote the Bard.

The musical is up for numerous awards, including Tonys for Best Musical, Best Direction, Choreography, Best Book, Score, Orchestrations (by Larry Hochman),  Costumes, and the performances by James, Borle and Oscar.

Something Rotten! proves that all the world's a stage at the St. James Theatre, 246 west 44th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $37.00 - $142.00: http://rottenbroadway.com.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Double entendre sexual references in the dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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