Thursday, April 23, 2015

Margin Notes: Something Rotten!

Brad Oscar and Brian d'Arcy James as Nostradamus and
Nick Bottom. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Something Rotten!

Seen on: Saturday, 3/28/15.
My grade: C. While not a terrible show, it was largely disappointing.

Plot and Background
Nick Bottom and his brother Nigel are struggling playwrights in Renaissance England - and Nick has nothing but resentment for Shakespeare, a rock star blowhard who seems to steal other people's writing more often than he creates his own. Desperate to have a hit (and to not lose his last cent and patron), Nick finds a soothsayer to tell him what show to write - and thus the first musical was born. However, this seer's sight is a little ... cloudy. Throw in some Puritans, a cross-dressing wife, and a healthy dose of self-awareness. World premiere.

What I Knew Beforehand
Something about Shakespeare as a rock star, and a very self-aware musical about writing a musical. And that a whole mess of actors I like are in it.


Play: I should open by saying that I saw the show in its first week of previews, and it is my understanding that the show has had revisions and improvements since then. After seeing all the cute viral marketing of Brian d'Arcy James and Christian Borle clowning around, I guess I expected a slightly different show than I got (for one, CB's not in it that much at all). While the show has a good heart and fun intentions, it just wasn't clever enough. Many of the nods to contemporary references, courtesy of Nostradamus, were definitely entertaining, and the portrayal of Shakespeare as a hack high on his own hype was a good touch, but the main characters and their story ultimately just weren't as compelling as the fun fringier aspects (and every time Brother Jeremiah made another "accidental" gay innuendo, I cringed. It's not funny, it's just dumb). Fun songs included the show-stopper "A Musical," the first act finale, "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top," and Shakespeare's second act number, "Hard to Be the Bard."

Cast: Brian d'Arcy James, Heidi Blickenstaff, and John Cariani are all three very talented and trying their best with weak material. But a bad joke told well will only get you so far. Christian Borle is very funny, but I felt simultaneously that he didn't have enough to do, and what he did do he'd already done before. Brad Oscar had a good meaty supporting role as Nostradamus, with the big song and dance number "A Musical," and sold every note of it. With the principals rounded off with Kate Reinders and Brooks Ashmanskas, the score is at the very least incredibly well sung and acted. I just wanted better material for them.

Design: Scott Pask's set included a lovely thatched Tudor frame around the proscenium. Within the space itself were several fold out houses, and the whole thing flowed very smoothly. Broadway Musical Meets Renaissance, exactly what the opening number prepared us for. Gregg Barnes's costumes were bright and fun (and he clearly had a lot of fun building the [spoilers] for the big Act Two number).


Running: Now playing at St. James Theatre - Opening April 22, 2015.
Category: musical
Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Book: Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell
Music & Lyrics: Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Conceived by: Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Director & Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Designers: Scott Pask (Set), Gregg Barnes (Costume), Jeff Croiter (Lighting), Peter Hylenski (Sound), Josh Marquette (Wig & Hair).
Cast: Brian d'Arcy James, Christian Borle, John Cariani, Heidi Blickenstaff, Brad Oscar, Kate Reinders, Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Bartlett, Gerry Vichi, Michael James Scott, Elizabeth Earley, Eric Giancola, Linda Griffin, David Hibbard, Jenny Hill, Stacey Todd Holt, Courtney Iventosch, Aaron Kaburick, Austin Lesch, Beth Johnson Nicely, Aleks Pevec, Angie Schworer, Eric Sciotto, Brian Shepard, Chelsea Morgan Stock, Ryan Vandenboom, Matt Wall, Marisha Wallace, Bud Weber.

Christian Borle as William Shakespeare. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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