By James V. Ruocco
Nick Bottom: "What the hell are musicals?"
Nostradamus: "It appears to be a play where the dialog stops, and the plot is conveyed through song!"
Nick Bottom: "Through song?"
Nick Bottom: "So an actor is saying his lines and then out of nowhere he just starts singing?"
Nick Bottom: "Well that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard! You're doing a play, got something to say, so you sing it? It's absurd! Who on Earth is going to sit there while an actor breaks into song? What possible thought could an audience think other than this is horribly wrong?"
Sharon Playhouse's exhilarating presentation of "Something Rotten!" a splashy period musical chock full of catchy songs. takeaway gags, sparkly innuendo and abundant invention is showcased with such enthusiasm, magnitude, spirit and light and color, it is stagecraft ready and cranked to the max with a contagious vibe and velocity that prompts immediate enjoyment at every turn, twist, tilt and chuckle.
This is musical theatre at its every best and one that whirls and twirls with vaudevillian shtick, madcap high jinks galore and fourth wall breaking surprise, irony and Renaissance giddyap.
It is exuberant and inventive.
It is tap happy and theatrical.
It is joyful and victorious.
It snaps and pops.
It is sweet and buzzy.
It is also full of surprises, wackadoodle punchlines, over-the-top characterizations and big, showstopping musical numbers.
The book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell sets things in motion as it time travels back to England, circa 1595, and finds two brothers, namely Nick and Nigel Bottom struggling to find success in the world of theater by producing a noble work of art that showcases their playwriting skills and ensures an audience much bigger and much larger than that of William Shakespeare, their narcissistic arch rival who has become the toast of England and the most respected playwright of the times.
To succeed, all they need is a hit play, a team of backers, lots of monies and a big theatrical smash that will knock the Bard off his pedestal once and for good.
With the help of Nostradamus, a celebrated female soothsayer, they discover - via a glimpse into the future - that the only way to topple young Will is to produce and mount of big lavish musical with lots of songs, lots of dancing and a very happy ending. It's their only chance of survival and one they cannot afford to pass up.
With Broadway references galore, backed by one hilarious scene after another, Kirkpatrick and O'Farrell transform "Something Rotten!" into a broad, nonstop laugh fest that never once runs out of steam.
Staging "Something Rotten!" director Amy Griffin ("Fun Home," "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," "Aida," "The Taffetas") is completely akin to the musicals' over-the-top wallow and pop, its inbred giddiness, its goofy puns, its jokey double-entendres, its glide and spin, its camp and parody and its lets-pull-out-all-the-stops musical theatre oeuvre. She also gets and understands the purposely inflated mechanics of the Karey Kirkpatrick/John O'Farrell play text, its mischievous attack of the Renaissance, its deliberate assault of Broadway musical theatre, its references to pretty much every musical out there, its wheel-and-deal producer/creator brainstorming sessions and its hilarious viewpoint that too much is never really enough for theatergoers with plenty of monies in their pockets to spend.
As storyteller, Griffin frames "Something Rotten!" with full-throttle commitment, voice, bounce and steamroller enthusiasm. Inside and out, her take on this utterly kitschy 16th century musical romp is surprisingly inventive, shout-out infamous and glorious fun for anyone with real knowledge of musical theatre, its performers, its history and its broad range of Tony award-winning productions that have once graced the Great White Way. It's all merrily spoon fed to the theatergoer from scene to scene and song to song with a carefully calibrated dynamic, rhythm and pulse that's diced and spliced with a harmonious, involved flow that never once falters for a millisecond. No matter how silly things get, Griffin keeps everything enjoyably weighted, partnered and fueled.
Directorially, Griffin also brings plenty of pep and snap to "Something Rotten's!" obvious obsession with Broadway musicals and its periodic glimpses into the future with visions of fiddlers on the roof, singing and dancing cats, falling chandeliers, a masked phantom, vengeful Nazis, seedy Berlin-based cabarets and traveling salesmen signaling trouble in River City. This no-holds-barred skewering - a source of genuine amusement throughout the production - references everything from "Rent" and "Evita" to "Chicago," "Wicked," "Sweet Charity," "A Chorus Line," "Les Misérables" and so much more.
Receiving a well-deserved 2015 Tony Award nomination for Best Original Score, "Something Rotten!" features a peppy musical libretto by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick who have penned the music and lyrics to absolute perfection, offset by a panoply of well-orchestrated kitsch, parody and slap and dash that serves the material well. Each of the musical numbers not only serves its intended purpose but propels the action forward with its choice use of humor, wickedness, abandonment and playful homage to Broadway musical theatre, past and present.
The score itself is comprised of twenty musical numbers. They are: "Welcome to the Renaissance," "God, I Hate Shakespeare," "Right Hand Man," "God, I Hate Shakespeare (reprise)," "A Musical," "The Black Death," "I Love the Way," "Will Power," "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top," "Welcome to the Renaissance (reprise)," "Hard to Be the Bard," "It's Eggs!" "We See the Light," "Nigel's Theme," "To Thine Own Self," "Right Hand Man (reprise)," "Something Rotten!" "Make an Omelette," "To Thine Own Self" and "Welcome to America."
As orchestrators and lyricists, the Kirkpatrick's address the musical's subject matter with engagement, anticipation and emotional intensity so hilariously contoured, things are celebrated, understood and articulated with such massive ridicule, twist and energy, nothing gets lost in the translation or its wistful gallop, skronk and swerve.
At Sharon Playhouse, the "Something Rotten!" musical score is brought to life by musical director Jacob Carll, who doubles as conductor and keyboardist one alongside the handpicked orchestral team of Walter Barrett (trombone), Alec Sisco (drums), Dan Koch (keyboardist two), Kevin Callaghan (electric, acoustic bass), Steve Siktberg (electric, acoustic guitar), Dave Pratt (piccolo, trumpet, flugelhorn) and Rich Conley (recorder, piccolo, flute, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax).
With the accent on fun, Carll supplies the two-act musical with a sound and atmospheric presence that's floated about with the jovial momentum and capability envisioned by its creators and rendered with evident chant, contrast, complexity and inspiration in pretty much all of musical numbers including "Welcome to the Renaissance," "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top," "God, I Hate Shakespeare" and "Welcome to America."
This being a musical, and one that takes its inspiration from all things Bard and all things Broadway, who better than Justin Boccitto to act as choreographer for "Something Rotten!" Here, as in the Sharon Playhouse productions of "Anything Goes" and "Crazy For You," Boccitto's choreography is rife with inspired variance, influence, depth, connection and theatrical retro that complements his extraordinary skills and craftsmanship for dance interpretation.
Into this jovial environment or glorious musical farce if you prefer, he brings astounding technique and energy to the dance numbers, offset by a splendid sense of merriment, weight and surprise that effectively reflects the humor of the book, the theatricality of the orchestrations, the parody at hand and the underlying emotions of every single character onstage.
There's also a bright positivity to his work that allows "Something Rotten!" to bounce, dazzle and amaze as both a paean to showbiz and a down-out, dash-and-go parody of musical theatre. The inclusion of tap dancing - a Boccitto trademark - to several of the musical numbers adds fuel to the fire with everyone on stage smiling and selling things in grand, solid "42nd Street/Anything Goes" fashion that prompts ovation worthy applause at every turn.
"Something Rotten!" stars Michael Santora as Nick Bottom, Jen Cody as Nostradamus, Max Crumm as Nigel Bottom, Danny Drewes as William Shakespeare, Emily Esposito as Bea, Melissa Goldberg as Portia, Ryan Palmer as Shylock and Daniel Pivovar as Brother Jeremiah.
As shaped and molded by director Amy Griffin, every performer on the Sharon Playhouse stage gets his or her place in the spotlight (standouts include Santora, Cody and Drewes) while embracing the catchy musical score by the talented Kirkpatrick duo and the invigorating choreography by Boccitto.
There are star turns. There are showstoppers. There are laughs. There are playful and sexy bits of stage business and musicality that get the pulses racing.
Song by song and dance by dance, everyone is in fine voice and full swing, playfully reflecting the conceit of the material, its fluent story arcs, its wicked abandonment, its parody and its homage to Broadway musical theatre.
One of the funniest musicals of the summer, "Something Rotten!" is a snappy, entertaining musical comedy with rapid-fire humor and hands-down musicality that rips and roars with non-stop confidence, cheer and individuality.
It's bold. It's buoyant. It's colorful. It's hysterical. It's full-beam tonic and fizz.
The cast keeps it fresh and breezy under Amy Griffin's wild and wacky direction.
Justin Boccitto's choreography is lively, expressive and dynamic.
In fact, "Something Rotten" is so much fun, once is not enough. This is one of the musicals you'll want to see again and again.
Photos of "Something Rotten!" courtesy of Aly Morrissey.