By Jason Epperson
A few years ago, I said something to a colleague like “I’m over ‘meta’ theater. We spend too much time writing shows about ourselves.” And perhaps this industry does. There are countless examples of shows that are just one long inside joke. And as much as I may enjoy a piece of the genre, I often wonder what the rest of the audience thinks. It’s that thought that moronically kept me away from experiencing THE DROWSY CHAPERONE for far too long, and unfortunately has kept me from paying much attention to SOMETHING ROTTEN!, the 2015 Broadway musical now playing at Starlight on its first national tour.
I’m over it. I’m convinced. It’s not only fine; it’s wonderful to skewer ourselves. SOMETHING ROTTEN! has finally convinced me, and no longer will I be a hold-out. This imaginative origin story tells the tale of the Bottom Brothers — writers and theatermakers in Shakespeare’s time. Lamenting over the Bard’s popularity, they try to shake things up on the Elizabethan theater scene by inventing something new – a musical.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a rip-roaring feast of big production numbers, innuendo, inside jokes, outside jokes, parody, and so much more, all wrapped up in a neat package with heart. As it so wryly both skewers and glorifies the musical theater, it does the same for William Shakespeare’s work, bringing both forms to equal footing, high-brow be damned. In Act I, we are treated to an epic number that describes everything that is great and terrible about musical theater, utilizing quick-hit moments from nearly every famous musical you can think of. In Act II, we get the “play within the play,” a hilariously trimmed musical misunderstanding of Hamlet — entitled Omelette — ,in which the recipe to the well-known breakfast dish is set to music with dancing eggs. Both numbers end on such a high note — not unlike the show-stopping finish to the famous “Lullaby of Broadway” from 42nd STREET — that it’s unbelievable that the rest of the comedy in the show lives up to it, but it does.
The cast of SOMETHING ROTTEN! is one of the best tour casts I’ve ever seen. In fact, after some years of seeing some fairly mediocre ensembles trot the boards, it seems as though producers are upping the game and getting some serious star talent to hit the road. Similar could be said about the AN AMERICAN IN PARIS tour that recently hit Starlight’s stage.
Rob McClure is our main player Nick Bottom, and his comic timing, crystal voice, and dance chops all dazzle. Adam Pascal (of RENT and AIDA fame) is perfectly cast as the rock star full-of-himself Will Shakespeare. Josh Grisetti, Maggie Lakis, and Blake Hammond round out the lead cast, supported by a stellar ensemble of supporting players, particularly Autumn Hurlbert as Portia, the “Yoko” of the Bottom Brothers, who knows how to twist every syllable to perfection.
There’s not a dull moment in SOMETHING ROTTEN!, and there’s so much to enjoy for the musical theater lover, the Shakespeare lover, and anyone who doesn’t give a hoot about either. It’s particularly well suited to Starlight’s outdoor venue, so brave the heat and get out to see it before it leaves on Sunday.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! runs through July 30th. For more information visit kcstarlight.com.