In Something Rotten!, as in the famed line from Hamlet, "there's something rotten in the state of Denmark," two Bottom brothers, one a talented poet named Nigel (John Cariani) and the other Nick (Brian d'Arcy James), compete with Shakespeare (Christian Borle), the rock star of the Renaissance. You can tell by his codpiece, he's got something sizable going on.
Of course, in the Hamlet we know, the king's moody son must avenge the death of his father. Here at the St. James Theater, we are in the hilarious throes of a backstory, a playwriting competition reminiscent in theme of Tom Stoppard's brilliant Shakespeare in Love, with the various wrights Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe as characters in Queen Elizabeth's court. Wishing to discover the next great moment in theater, Nick enlists the talents of the soothsayer Nostradamus (Brad Oscar) who predicts that musicals will be all the rage. If Something Rotten!'s Omelette, a play with dancing eggs is the result, you can see where this silliness is heading. Yet a most unlikely concept, the brainchild of two brothers, Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (with John O'Farrell), playing with Hamlet as well as every musical you have ever seen and loved on Broadway, what is surprising is that this conceit works; you are amazed at how entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny this play is.
So funny with great song and dance, the night we attended, the play and its stars had just received its ten Tony nominations, for the principle actors, and including Best Direction for Casey Nicholaw; the mood could not have been more buoyant. Broadway veteran, Brooks Ashmanskas plays Brother Jeremiah, puritanical contrast to wily Shakespeare, the Bottoms and the rest of the theater troupe. Mincing around the stage deploying phallic jokes, his is the voice of religious repression, dampening any thought of theater, poetry, fun, or love, everything Something Rotten! celebrates with glee.
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