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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"SOMETHING ROTTEN!" at The 5th Avenue Offers Both Shock and Awe, For Better or Worse

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour - Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle just opened its 2017-2018 season with the touring Broadway musical comedy Something Rotten!, which runs now through October 1, 2017. It should completely delight the most ardent fans of musicals. I mean people who really love musical theater, those who can hear a snippet of a song and name the title and show, who eat up every cliché the genre can possibly offer. For them, this quick-paced, colorful, and clever production is a feast. However, to others, Something Rotten! might feel like an orgy of excesses. 

It comes from a team with very impressive credentials. Casey Nicholas, a Tony Award winner who did The Book of Mormon and Aladdin, directs this production and also did the choreography. Wayne Kirkpatrick (a Grammy Award winner and Tony Award nominee) and Karen Kirkpatrick (Golden Globe Award winner and Tony Award nominee) wrote the music and lyrics, with Karen Kirkpatrick also writing the book with best-selling author John O-Farrell.

The show opens with the Minstrel (Nick Rashad Burroughs) starting off the fun and funny "Welcome to the Renaissance." He is soon joined by the chorus as we move into a lively London street scene, including the Globe Theatre. This is the 1590s world of William Shakespeare (who is also a primary character, played by Adam Pascal).  I instantly loved the colors of the set and costumes, by Broadway veterans Scott Park and Gregg Barnes, respectively. Rich shades of rust, gold, brown, and teal pleased me, as did Jeff Croiter's perfect lighting. 

Something Rotten! revolves around the dilemma faced by two playwright brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, respectively) Struggling to survive in the shadow of Shakespeare, whose success has turned him into the rock star of his times, they must come up with a new play on short notice, to compete and keep their troupe going. Unfortunately, the two brothers disagree on almost everything. Nick, unbeknownst to his wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) uses their meager savings to hire a soothsayer named Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), to give him a winning idea and reveal the next big thing in theater. This Nostradamus is the nephew of the Nostradamus, and his clairvoyance is not quite spot on. 

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour - Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

As Nostradamus describes his vague vision of a potential smash hit we recognize as Shakespeare's future play Hamlet, he interprets the title as Omelet. Running with the idea, Nick comes up with a completely ridiculous, over-the-top-silly script involving chefs with frying pans and dancing omelets. Most importantly, Nostradamus makes the seemingly outlandish suggestion that the playwrights have actors sing their lines, rather than speak them, setting the whole play to music and including dance. Ta da! They are about to invent something completely new—musical theater! Is this insanity or genius? Can it succeed?

Something Rotten! also involves romance of course. The sensitive and poetic brother, Nigel, falls in love with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), daughter of a Puritan preacher, Brother Jeremiah (Patrick John Moran), a man whose repressed sexual fantasies causes enough Freudian slips to rate as psychological banana peels. 

Speaking of music, Peter Hylenski's sound design, along with Phil Reno's music direction of Glen Kelly's arrangements and Larry Hochman's orchestrations, bring out the full potential of the amazing musicians we never see but so appreciate. A combination of the Something Rotten! orchestra (conducted by Brian P. Kennedy) and our beloved 5th Avenue Theatre Orchestra, delivers a wide variety of music so skillfully you would think they had all played these exact tunes for years.  

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour - Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel
So, with great music, singing, dancing, sets, and costumes, what's not to like?
After all, the annoying woman sitting behind me burst out with ear-splitting cackles over everything. The show begins with so much dazzling sensory sensations, it later struggles to maintain that high. There was plenty of genuinely good humor, which I, too, enjoyed, to a point, because there was also plenty of in-your-face crassness that started to get old. There is good reason it is recommended for those 10 years of age or older. Ironically, much of the bawdy humor would go over the heads of younger children whereas kids over 10, in today's society, would probably catch the implications. Content Advisories.  

How many times can you ask an audience to find the same thing funny (like winking references to the brothers' surname of "Bottom" or the outrageous behavior of the repressed Puritan?) How much attention must be focus on the exaggerated codpiece portion of the men's costumes? (You are going to want to click on that link to read a fascinating article.) How many musical "quotes" from other Broadway shows can you stomach? How many sexual innuendos of the same type do we need to get the obvious point? How much belief must we suspend to believe what some of these characters do, like the Puritan daughter getting drunk? 

Picture this scenario. You invite a group of notable chefs into the kitchen and provide them with unlimited quantities of the highest quality ingredients, some of which are best used judiciously. Then, they each add every one of those high quality ingredients with abandon, plus extra, for good measure, stir it all together, and crank up the heat. The end result might make you say "WOW," but does that make it good? 

I will let you decide. Audience reaction on opening night indicated how many people loved this show. If you are in the mood for a meal of many flavors, colors, textures, and tunes, go, and enjoy yourself. However, after this experience, you might decide the best chaser would be a glass of plain water and a quiet drive home.