“Something Rotten!” Is All About the Laughs

Saturated with musical references, “Something Rotten!” gets funnier with every musical you know

Nick Rashad Burroughs plays the minstrel in the opening number of "Something Rotten!" at Orpheum through April 8.

Nick Rashad Burroughs opens up Something Rotten! as a minstrel welcoming us to the Renaissance. It’s pretty great, you know—the plague is even gone.

Something Rotten! is a musical for those who love musicals, and with the seemingly infinite winks to Broadway and Shakespeare, laughter rolled through Orpheum Theatre to the point where you wished the crowd’s response would settle so you could hear the next joke. While there were moments where even the cast seem to cringe at the innuendo they say, the script is fun, and the choreography and the lyrics upbeat and absurd. The actors certainly play up the humor, but somehow, despite the clear setups and silly gesticulations, the punch lines don’t feel overworked for the most part. Then again, maybe the tap dancing eggs just left everyone in a good mood. Decide for yourself before the musical leaves Minneapolis April 8.

Debuting on Broadway in 2015 to 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Something Rotten! follows the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom as they try to make their mark on 16th–century theater with something meaningful, something sincere—something that will beat rock star, William Shakespeare. Feeling low on ideas, Nick has a fortuneteller tell him what the biggest thing in theater will be. With a far off look, the man pulls Nick close, and, with a hand out to the horizon, says, “Musicals.” Nick’s response: “What the hell are musicals?” 

While the fortune teller Nostradamus, played by Blake Hammond with a Gottfried-esque shrill and almost 20/20 visions, doesn’t ever move the heart, he certainly makes the audience crack up. With Hammond’s prophecy of “A Musical,” which becomes an eight-minute show biz extravaganza riffing on some of the most famous musicals of all time, I almost thought the audience would get on their feet, their applause was so thunderous and unending. Say what you will about the play’s simplistic approaches to getting the audience to laugh, but the team hit it out of the park—“A Musical” was just one of two where the applause lasted far longer than the final note.

Nick and Nigel Bottom, played by understudy Scott Cote on opening night and Josh Grisetti, respectively, are the perfect, expected foils. When the tall, dark-haired Grisetti gets carried away singing about his passions—Portia (Autumn Hurlbert) and poetry—an old school, Disney princely vibrato starts to creep into his singing voice, whereas stout and brunette Cote, the businessman and promoter of the two, hits all of his lyrics with the exasperated humor we love in Daffy Duck or today’s office sitcoms. Still, when they harmonize, the note shines, just as their characters do when they play off each other onstage. 

Both characters get a little lost along the way, but with spunky numbers like “Right Hand Man” by a mirth-filled Maggie Lakis, who plays Nick’s wife Bea, and strong verses by Autumn Hurlbert, Nigel’s love, the leading ladies of the play make sure both men know exactly where they stand while simultaneously plugging equal rights. 

Adam Pascal, who normally plays Shakespeare, also did not make it to the stage, so Daniel Beeman took over the role and, with it, the apparently obligatory glam, leather pants and deep V necklines, thanks to costume designer Gregg Barnes. Opening night might have had three key characters switch around actors—the third was the pious queen bee Brother Jeremiah, played by Joel Newsome—but the performance did not suffer in the slightest.

Something Rotten! writers Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell keep the consequences of the Bottoms’ first musical from being too predictable, which may contribute to how hasty the ending seems, but with this sort of play, it’s about the laughs, anyway. After all, we know it will be a happy ending, so why not take the path with the most laughs along the way?

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