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Theater Review: “Something Rotten!”

“Something Rotten!” plays through November 19, 2017 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Photo credit:
Segerstrom Center for the Arts

“Something Rotten!” isn’t a bit rotten. It’s a big, blowsy, noisy, crazy musical that got 10 Tony nominations on Broadway and now is touring the country. It’s playing through Nov. 19 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

The show, with music and lyrics by brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and book by Karey Kirkpatrick and British humorist John O’Farrell, is set in the 1580’s, when Shakespeare is already a rock-star playwright, but before he writes his pièce de résistance, “Hamlet.”

The show opens with the rousing “Welcome to the Renaissance” number (“where everything is new”) and where we learn that brothers (and wannabe playwrights) Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti) are trying to horn in on – or at least share – some of the Bard’s spotlight.

“One thing I hate about Shakespeare,” complains Nick, “is all the twits who bloviate about him.”

Everything is new except Puritans like Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote), who scowls around the stage, disapproving of almost everything, but most especially the interest his daughter Portia (Autumn Hurlbert) is showing in Nigel, a sensitive soul who secretly likes Shakespeare.

Nick’s wife Bea (Maggie Lakis), a proto-feminist who would be just as happy going out making a living herself, has been squirreling away money whenever possible. When Nick and Nigel can’t come up with a topic, Nick steals the money and goes to Nostradamus (not *that* one; his nephew Thomas, played with great relish by Blake Hammond), who looks into the future, says with shock in his voice “that much for a glass of wine?” and then answers Nick’s question: “The next big thing in theater is musicals!”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” says Nick, leading into the song that brought the house down on opening night – “A Musical,” a major production number offering tappers, fan-dancers, a kickline, loads of chorus members and references to what seems like every major musical ever produced.

At which point my friend leaned over and whispered, “Aren’t they going to wear themselves out before intermission?” It’s a good question.

The show continues with songs that range from a tasteless but amusing ode to “The Black Death” to a funny paean to fame and the agony of writing in “Will Power” before getting to the major silliness of selecting a topic for this new musical. Nostradamus runs through “Hair” and “Little Shop of Whores” before genius strikes: “Omelette.”

“Oh, a breakfast theme,” notes Nick.

There’s little point but many laughs (not to mention the welcome distraction from real life) to be had in “Something Rotten.” Whether or not you catch all the high-speed references (from some 90 shows), the cast is just fun to watch, colorful and boisterous and full of talented folks who seem to be in nearly perpetual motion.

This is a uniformly fine cast, wonderfully costumed by Gregg Barnes. Scott Pask’s set is versatile, the show is well lit by Jeff Croiter, and Peter Hylenski contributes a fine sound design.

Adam Pascal looks great in those outrageous “rock star” costumes (tight black leather, silver quills for a neckpiece, a huge codpiece, you get the idea). He spoke a little too quickly for my aged ears, but it wasn’t difficult to get the gist.

Hammond’s Nostradamus and Jeff Brooks’ Shylock (who wants in on the business opportunity, despite the prejudice of the time) are just plain funny.

McClure’s Nick and Grisetti’s Nigel are a hoot together and individually. Autumn Hurlbert and Maggie Lakis are lovely and lovely to listen to as Portia and Bea.

“Something Rotten” is a big, boisterous, goofy production that is not to be missed.

The details

“Something Rotten!” plays through November 19, 2017 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.