In the era of shows like “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Something Rotten!” will likely go by the wayside within the next ten years. The show, playing now at the Oriental Theatre, has moments of cheap — and even at points, enjoyable — hilarity throughout, but ultimately does little for the audience member in terms of leaving a lasting impression.
The original Broadway production of the musical opened in 2015, receiving 10 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical. Given its mastery of tastefully poking fun at the art form of the musical, which many have admitted bemusement for, it’s no wonder the show quickly generated buzz by both the most veteran and new theatre connoisseurs alike.
Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell teamed up to pen arguably one of the wittiest books to grace the Great White Way in some time. The show is filled with enough one-liners and well-placed innuendos to keep you giggling throughout all two hours and twenty minutes. Wayne Kirkpatrick, Karey’s brother, matches this tone with his music and lyrics. He seizes every opportunity to take jabs at recognizable musical moments and the Bard’s wordy and often confusing language.
In addition to Gregg Barnes’ colorfully ornate era-inspired costumes, Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography are standout technical elements for the show. Nicholaw, known for other Broadway hits including “Aladdin” and “The Book of Mormon” (which you’ll catch traces of if you look hard enough), has put together inventive choreography from start to finish.
The Minstrel, played by the charmingly engaging Nick Rashad Burroughs, introduces audiences to the Renaissance. The show opens at a time when Shakespeare, portrayed as a heartthrob rock star by the equally talented Adam Pascal, dominated the literary landscape. In order to compete in the theatre scene, brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom pursue the untouched idea of the musical — an idea put forth by Nostradamus, a soothsayer who looks into the future and predicts it as the next big success.
This foresight triggers the biggest show-stopping number of the evening, “A Musical,” one of the early songs in the first act. In what could be described as five-second successive odes to some of Broadway’s biggest hits, the show quickly references iconic musical moments from shows like “Annie,” “A Chorus Line,” “Rent” and “Pippin.” This sent the musical fans in the audience quick enough to pick up on these bits roaring with laughter. Elongated praise and hollers greeted the actors when the number finished.
Rob McClure, who plays Nick Bottom, shows off his fine-tuned acting chops in “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” where his character ticks with disgust at any mention of the famous playwright and author.
Maggie Lakis plays Nick’s progressive wife, Bea. In what seems to be a common characteristic of supporting female roles in today’s shows, Lakis portrays Bea in a strong-willed, feminist sort of way. She loudly vocalizes support of gender equality to her husband and dresses as a male to find work otherwise prohibited to women during this time period.
Josh Grisetti plays the impressionable Nigel, Nick’s brother. The jittery playwright bumps into and immediately falls in love with a Puritan named Portia (Autumn Hurlbert with a voice and bubble reminiscent to that of Kristin Chenoweth). The two share a love of literature and poetry to the extent that it humorously pushes them to arousal in one number. Throughout this change in his personal life, Nigel struggles to defy his brother’s demand to write “Omelette: The Musical,” a whimsical show with dancing eggs, which he doesn’t see value in — and rightfully so.
The committed ensemble keeps itself from being overlooked, especially during impressively synchronized tap numbers and in the lively tune, “We See the Light.”
Despite notable technical feats, there are rarely enough real-world stakes or themes for audiences to fully invest in this piece of theatre. Although this might be more forgivable or slip by in the first act’s flashier moments, it becomes significantly more evident in the show’s second act, which drags with some stretched-out gags.
The perfectly cast group making up “Something Rotten!” invests in the show and their characters throughout its duration, ultimately creating an entertaining night of side-splitting theatre. Audiences will attend, they’ll laugh, they’ll leave with aching abs and smiles on their faces, but they likely won’t remember this one in great detail in the years to come. Even with that said, there will always be entertainment value in the overly elaborate, excitable and spontaneous song and dance which makes up … a musical.
“Something Rotten!” is playing at the Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph) through July 23. Tickets cost $27-$108 and can be purchased at Broadway In Chicago box offices, online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling the Broadway In Chicago ticket line at (800) 775-2000.