Don’t expect anything like standard Elizabethan theater history from “Something Rotten!” the wacky, irrepressible, overstuffed musical on national tour at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Bubonic-plague jokes? A Mick Jagger-like Shakespeare shaking his booty at swooning fans? Dancing omelets in a breakfast-themed mash-up of “Hamlet” and eggs?
Don’t expect anything like standard Elizabethan theater history from “Something Rotten!” the wacky, irrepressible, overstuffed musical on national tour at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Think Mel Brooks meets Masterpiece Theatre. On steroids.
Through Oct. 1 at 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; (206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org)
The show was set to premiere at the 5th Ave in 2015. But the buzz was so good, it fast-tracked to Broadway, nabbing 10 Tony Award nods during its 700-performance run.
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Now its zany, erratic charms have come to Seattle. In the splashy opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” merry maids and courtiers sporting “plumed hats and pointy shoes” gambol about, name-checking the era’s geniuses (including Will of Avon, “our brightest star/Yo, he’s the bomb”) as they bid a cheeky adieu to the Middle Ages.
Staged and choreographed to the hilt by hot director Casey Nicholaw (“Book of Mormon,” “Aladdin”), with clever lyrics and music by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, this spectacle is really a gleeful throwback to the Great American Musical, from “Oklahoma” to “Avenue Q.”
And for Shakespeare lovers, it affectionately lobs a battalion of lit-major jests (uproarious and stupid) at the Bard and his canon.
Co-writers Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell slyly worked in names of Shakespeare personae. Winking at Brooks’ “The Producers,” and the Bard’s “Comedy of Errors,” their story centers on Nick Bottom (as in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”), and his brother Nigel (the winning Josh Grisetti), who desperately need a hit to save their failing theater troupe. Nick’s wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) tries to help.
In the musical rant “God, I Hate Shakespeare!,” Nick (ebullient, brooding Rob McClure) amusingly rips the rival Bard’s golden boy success — then heads to a soothsayer to get inspiration for his own make-or-break show.
The shaggy Nostradamus (a deliciously weird Blake Hammond) forsees that 1) a tale about a Danish “omelet” (sounds like?) will be the Bard’s greatest triumph, and 2) characters “breaking into song for no reason” will someday be all the rage.
Cue the showstopping “A Musical” — a name-that-tuner jamboree for the jet-fueled ensemble, it’s a hilarious lightning-round of bits, shtick and musical tags from famous shows — “West Side Story” fingersnaps, a little “Music Man” patter, puppets a la “Avenue Q,” etc.
“A Musical” erupts in mid-Act 1, and “Something Rotten” tries very hard over the next 90 minutes or so to top it. That might have happened with “Will Power,” wherein glam god Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) thrills a crowd by tossing off lines from his biggest dramatic hits to a rock beat.
Pascal labors to rev up excitement but can barely be heard over blaring music and screaming acolytes. (On Broadway, Christian Borle’s more potent, comprehensible brand of preening, sneering charisma won him the show’s sole Tony.)
Act 2 gets lumpier, as Nick struggles to concoct a show destined to be “something rotten” — like the state of Hamlet’s Denmark. Too much time is also lavished on poetic Nigel’s romance with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), daughter of a fanatical, swishy Puritan preacher. (Expect dumb but harmless jokes about gays, Jews and sex scattered around the show.)
But those dancing omelets are a kick. And given the Nicholaw flair, the cunning tunes and Gregg Barnes’ spoofy faux-Elizabethan garb, there’s plenty more to laugh at than grumble about in “Something Rotten!.” As the Bard might say, “If musicals be the food of love/Play on!”
Information in this article, originally published Sept. 15, 2017, was corrected Sept. 17, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified two characters in the musical. Bea is the wife of Nick Bottom and Portia is the sweetheart of Nigel Bottom, not vice versa.