As I sat down to Broadway San Jose’s Something Rotten on Tuesday I had only the very slightest sense of what I was about to see. While I rarely prime my experience with research or perusal of the music and libretto to make sure I don’t stumble upon spoilers, I was particularly in the dark (ages) this time. Aside from knowing it was a type of a “Shakespearean musical comedy”, I was coming into it blind. As it turned out, I couldn’t have likely adequately prepared myself for the glorious night of theatrical hilarity bestowed on me if I had tried. Ignorance in this case I think was additional bliss as the show’s anything-but-rotten fun, easily exceeded any expectations I could have possibly mustered.
I declare this show to be one of the best examples of self-referential satire I’ve ever seen, and undoubtedly the most enjoyable I can recall. Indeed, I was coaxed into lengthy periods of extreme cheek fatiguing grinning and prolonged giggling throughout, with plenty of effortless large laughing cycling through as well. I know a show is good when I can silence the inner critic and forget to mentally note my likes and dislikes. This show easily distracted me and herded me joyously into the moment for the vast majority of its 2 1/2 hours.
A truly ridiculous plot stuffed fat with farce and physical humor, I found myself unexpectedly marveling at the depth of content and the highest level of artistic achievement simultaneously on display. What I so enjoyed about this production was just how well it mocked and honored that which it mocked! It’s a fabulously sharp and successful instance of meta that doesn’t lose or alienate you in the jokes as this type of structure so often does. If you didn’t know a single thing about Shakespeare and/or musicals I think you could very well still be supremely fond of this show. It’s fundamentally a highly entertaining spectacle stacked with enormously talented artists on stage and behind the scenes; but the more you know about the Bard and Musical Theatre, the richer and more endearing the show is. I unabashedly embraced its genius and thoroughly adored it.
The score is pleasantly hummable. The songs are SMART and numbers like the show stopping “A Musical” are so packed with puns, parody and brilliance that it left me literally agape and wishing we could rewind and see it again and again. That number is worth the price of admission alone. Genius lyrically and I’m sure there was far more than I was able to catch going on musically as well. The plot is so much fun and while not every song was a winner in my book, overall I really found it to be fresh, face pasted and enchanting.
This cast is one of the funniest and comically proficient that I have seen, anywhere. Timing is superb and every last member of the cast backs up their acting with wining vocals and moves.
Nick Botttom is a power and a presence while still maintaining a real and relate-able protagonist. He gets the job required of him done comically, dramatically, musically and physically. He’s likable and certainly earns his applause.
Nigel’s dreamy, pining poet is essential and well performed, but the sincerity and earnestness of his character provided fewer opportunities for comedy than his counterparts (at least for me). He’s perhaps the most unoriginal/clichéd character – which works obviously in the structure of spoofing Elizabethan trends. There has to be more of a straight man I guess in every play for contrast, but I can’t fault his apt performance.
Our soothsayer who’s name I’ll withhold out of respect for the particularly amusing joke it is part of, is an absolute riot. By far my favorite. Committed, commanding, charismatic, and an honest to god triple threat. He clearly also enjoys the spotlight and the glowing warmth that comes from a genuine love of performing which accompanied his hilarious delivery, was a charming bonus.
Portia is a casting dream and in the hands of someone less talented I could totally see this part being unmemorable. Her delightfully chirpy, Kristin Chenowethian perk came through while all the vocal agility, rich tone and expression was carefully nuanced and uniquely hers. She owned it in all the right ways without giving her ingénue any unnecessary rough edges.
I love the idea that Shakespeare is a bit of a snakey, jerk and I really hope the actor playing him isn’t. I’d be really happy to believe that all the cringing and squirming that resulted from every one of his self-stroking, insecure, whines was due to superior acting and not any kind of type casting. He’s obnoxiously written on the page and double so on the stage and I kind of loved to hate the little terd.
Bea, Nick Bottom’s wife, has an endearing and timely feminist flair to her character as well as a through-line planted firmly in the tradition of the Bard, and she impresses with comedy and pipes in spades.
Brother Jeremiah is an unexpectedly innuendoed Puritan who prompts some of the night’s biggest laughs.
The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble really hit their marks musically and perfectly nailed the dance, making it look all too easy.
Technically the set was complex, but transitions were swift and felt as unencumbered as the laughs. The overall staging was equally as steeped in wit and mockery as the writing, and in fact every component really embodied and committed to that objective. It really seemed as though everything is made funnier somehow in this show because of the attention to technical details.
A perfect example of this technical satirical elevation was the costuming (which was gorgeous with its quirky, anachronistic textures and hues) working in perfect comedic synchronicity with the movement. Wardrobe elements like pronounced, loosely-worn, bustle pillows are particularly effective in accentuating the silly when combined with intentionally spring-loaded dance moves; the ups and downs providing an extra visual punchline. Choreography was an element I wouldn’t have thought coming into the show would have been as important (or as outstanding) as it was. I found myself really digging what they’d done and appreciating the collaborative excellence of the production.
Sound tends to be difficult in this space and with all the moving parts of a tour, but I was pleasantly surprised with the volume and mixing for the most part. With the exception of having challenges understanding the words to the opening song, a few of the full chorus parts and the balance seeming a bit off during “Will Power” the sound appeared pretty good.
I was thinking how this show channeled the best parts of The Book of Mormon, The Producers, and Monty Python and I was amused to discover after the fact,these are the EXACT shows that have been used to describe and market Something Rotten. I’d add in a bit of SNL (those random, experimental sketched filling in the 12:55 am slot), hints of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a dose of college freshman English class if a wanted to sum up the genre more completely. It’s a fun ride and one I’d see again for sure. An enthusiastic 4 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a ludicrous, light and lovely lampoon with over-the-top comic mayhem and an extremely intelligent, exquisitely layered, ingeniously crafted, and superbly performed musical. Something Rotten plays through Sunday 2/3/2019 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown San Jose.