In the history of theatre, we have learned that William Shakespeare was a lot of things – namely a playwright, director and poet. What we didn’t bank on was that he was a massive rock star, with abs for days, slick-backed hair and that Elizabethan neck thing (actually called a ruff) that looks spiky and badass in person.
The wacky, pun fest that is “Something Rotten,” now playing through Sunday, Feb. 3rd at Broadway San Jose has a lot going for it. It’s plenty goofy, and does not look to show even an ounce of restraint, choosing instead to put its giant English paws on the audience’s collective tummies and squeeze, squeeze and squeeze some more.
The only problem is that not all the jokes land, and despite the fact that there is plenty happening for a solid and entertaining evening of theatre, it never really gets past its initial round of punny stuff.
The premise here is rooted in a bit of history. While Shakespeare was out there shredding the competition (why is he already on Richard III while others are only on Richard II?!), other playwrights were trying to keep up. These include the fictional Bottom brothers –the envious Nick of “Midsummer” fame (a delightful Matthew Michael Jannis) and charming little brother Nigel (a sweets to the sweet performance by Richard Spitaletta). Even though Nick has more of the fire and the energy, Nigel has the power of ideas and the ability to put words together in powerful combinations that breathe life and poetry into a soul.
But wait, doesn’t Shakespeare have what Nigel has? In a word, no. Visceral shredder and a delightfully fun turn by Matthew Baker as the Bard brings forth all the beliefs of what Shakespeare might have actually been. He might even be described as a “foolish maltworm,” or even a “dreadful boil.” I may even add that he is a buffoonish ninny-poo (that one is mine), but one thing is most clear – he’s a thief who gets a hold of some critically important works and claims it as his own.
Nigel and Nick have got to figure out how to get past this Shakespeare fella and his fame, but are also secretly in awe of him. So in order to leapfrog Shakespeare and get going on their own, they need to come up with a grand idea. And who better to help them come up with this then Nostradamus (highly energized Greg Kalafatas). As Nostradamus peers in the future, he sees what the people are gonna love, and that’s musicals. Musicals that are funny, sad, leggy, full of line kicking, and Nazis, who are bad people. Or so it is assumed by Nostradamus, he’s still not quite sure.
But what comes forth is a combination of this wild, new genre and eggs. As in, omelets. Time for Nick and Nigel to get crackin’ (no pun intended) on their brand new show. Nick is fired up, but Nigel has a better plan, involving a ghost and a Danish.
It’s actually wackier than I’m making it sound. But there is something else that’s wacky but fun if you watch, and it involves channeling your inner Seth Rudetsky – pick out how many musicals are hinted at throughout the show. It certainly feels like all the hits are there.
Lots of delightful performances are at the forefront of the production, such as Bea, played with a wonderfully strong energy by Emily Kristen Morris. There is also Portia, handled with grace from Jennifer Elizabeth Smith. Bea’s pretty awesome, not falling into the female norms of society, instead choosing to challenge the status quo, whether it’s gathering up food for the fam or trying to act on stage at a time that did not allow females to do so. And it’s through Portia’s soft touch that Nigel finds his voice, loudly expressed through his quill.
Not all the music is memorable, but much of it is enjoyable. Can’t argue with the jam “Will Power” and the performance of decadence from Baker. Also, you got “A Musical” and a ear-pleasing harmony fest “To Thine Own Self.”
Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw has become one of my favorite creatives. His work flourishes beautifully in big, bright colors, and “Something Rotten” is another in the line of eye-popping movement. Dancing groundlings, dancing eggs (even one heroine who danced her heart out as her egg hat accidentally covered her eyes) all made for delectable eye-candy.
Despite the many good things happening, ultimately the show falls flat in many moments. Part of its problem has to do with its familiarity. The material reminds us that other shows have covered this territory before. Shows such as “Book of Mormon” or “Spamalot” are immediate parallels, yet “Something Rotten” doesn’t have the same bite or wit. At 150 minutes with an intermission, it’s a pretty standard run time for a Broadway musical, yet it feels too long, the gas running out on the jokes before the final curtain call.
Still, there’s plenty of entertaining moments to keep the crowd going, especially those who love musicals. And eggs. And Danish.
And who knows – we have one of the most popular musicals in history all about the first United States treasury secretary – can a musical about the magic of eggs be that far off?
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Broadway San Jose presents “Something Rotten”
Music and Lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
The Word: An entertaining evening despite the fact that the jokes don’t always land, leaving us with a show that feels a bit unsatisfying
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Jan. 29th – Feb. 3rd
San Jose Center for Performing Arts
255 S. Almaden Blvd, San Jose, CA 95113
Tickets range from $43 – $158
For tickets, call (800) 982-2787 or visit www.broadwaysanjose.com