You don’t have to be a Broadway junkie or know Shakespeare’s plays by heart to enjoy Something Rotten, but you’ll get more out of it if you do.
Is Something Rotten appropriate for kids? More on that later. First, a little background. This musical comedy is based in the Renaissance, where one of Shakespeare’s playwriting contemporaries is trying to come up a show that will make him famous and well paid. With the help of a “friend” he creates the world’s first musical. Hilarity ensues.
Actually hilarity runs throughout the entire production. The book is funny, as are lyrics which range from high end to low end (“I hate Shakespeare. Don’t be a penis, the man is a genius…The man knows how to write a bitchin play”). While the actors are normally speaking in modern language, they do mix it up with some fast-talking rhyming couplets thrown in. The language moves quickly, so pay attention!
If you haven’t heard of this show, you’re not alone. It’s new – not based on a movie and it’s not a remake. The show cancelled its Seattle tryout run which might have made it better known, taking its chances by grabbing the St. James Theater spot and offering $15.95 tickets to the first three shows to create buzz and get people in the door. I was only of the lucky ones to grab two of those tickets. I’m not sure if the audience was just filled with fans, or they were jazzed by the bargain priced tickets, but that audience had the most energy of any Broadway show I’ve seen. There was a huge buzz before the show started – you could feel it. And people were going CRAZY during the show.
Brothers Nick Bottoms, played by Brian d’Arcy James (you can bet there are plenty of jokes revolving around that Bottoms name) along with his younger brother Nigel (John Cariani) struggle to produce a play that someone will back, tough to do in Shakespeare’s times. While soft-hearted poet Nigel idolizes Shakespeare (and you’ll find that his writing is just as good – wink wink), Nick hates him. There’s a long standing rivalry between them going back to their acting days. Plus, Shakespeare is well regarded, rich and famous. Nick owes a lot of money and hasn’t produced a hit. Will is adored by all, except the jealous Nick, whose song God, I Hate Shakespeare lets you know exactly where he stands.
For Nick to come up with that one winning idea that will get him out of debt and help him make his mark, he visits soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (Brad Oscar) who has the answers he needs, though the predictions are slightly off. Nostradamus does envision the rise of the musical, and the explanation of what a musical is – along with demonstrated dance numbers – brought the crowd to a standing ovation during the first act. The only time I’ve seen a standing ovation mid-show was after Andrea Martin’s act in Pippin.
The explanations about dance breaks that don’t advance the show, tap dancing and actors stopping in the middle of their speech to sing were hilarious. And Nick’s first take on a musical number (a jazzy “The Black Death”) was awesome too.
As for Will Shakespeare, Christian Borle will get a Tony nomination, for sure. His cocky, star powered role was best exemplified in his solo It’s Hard to be the Bard. His intro scene, Will Power at Shakespeare in the Park, was another high energy number, complete with fans showing their love by waving candles.
Shakespeare fans also get lots of inside references (including the title, taken from Hamlet). In addition to various Shakespeare lines thrown in throughout the show, you’ll see Shylock the moneylender, who was promised by Shakespeare to be written into one of his plays as “that really nice Jew.” Similarly, Judge Falstaff gets promised a role, where he won’t be playing the fool. We all know how that turns out.
Theater fans will delight in the numerous inside references to Broadway shows old and new. There were so many I lost count, but they were done so well. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but any time you get Cats, Annie, the Lion King and Les Miserables references in a show that takes place before their time, you’re in for a treat.
A word about the costumes: they will win the Tony award. The costumes are fabulous, as is the hair design and set design.
There were a few hiccups during the show, including one where the table and chairs crashed into the set instead of moving automatically to their spot. The actors handled it so well they got laughter and applause.
Is Something Rotten appropriate for kids?
While there’s not much to quibble about in terms of language or sex in the show, I’d say that high schoolers on up would best appreciate it. Younger kids will find it funny, between the visual gags and the inanity of the musical number (especially the first staged performance of Nick’s big play), but I don’t think most kids under high school age will truly “get it” unless they’re huge theater and Shakespear buffs. The concept is a bit more mature, even if the show is very silly.
There’s no nudity in the show, and only a few kisses. The language is fine – I don’t recall any curse words. There’s some sexual innuendo during a few of the songs and poetry exchanges, especially between Nigel and his Puritan girlfriend Portia (Kate Reinders). In a song reminiscent of Baptize Me in the Book of Mormon, the two share poetry when it’s clear they could also be talking about sex. That could be uncomfortable to sit through with younger kids, though maybe the kids wouldn’t get the double meaning.
And about the ladies’ restrooms in the St. James Theater basement? There are plenty of them! Hooray for no lines!
The show is in previews, and opens April 22.
You can get $79 tickets with code MAIL or SRBBX128TK at Ticketmaster for shows through May 24, 2015. They have some other discounts (like $37.50 and $57 tickets) during previews, without needing a code. You can read more about Broadway shows for kids and discount codes on our Broadway for kids page.