While I tap my toes to many classic musicals and once sang “Godspell” in French, that world lost me somewhere around dancing cats and warbling beggars. My ambivalence towards the modern day musical makes me the perfect audience member for Something Rotten.
The plot revolves around the invention of the musical as a new entertainment form that just might knock Will Shakespeare from his perch as the most popular dramatist of the Renaissance. The clever lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick manage to simultaneous praise and make fun of the genre. And their music borrows no more than seven seconds of no less than 15 other famous scores. It’s a veritable aural Where’s Waldo for the initiated.
There is no doubt I was further seduced by the delightful performances of the two leads. Brain d’Arcy James, painfully wasted as the spurned husband in NBC’s Smash, is put to great use as the sweet, ambitious and misguided Nick Bottom, desperate to secure a comfortable life for his family by making a decent living as a playwright. And two time Tony Award winner Christian Borle — channeling Tim Curry — takes on The Bard as 16th Century Rock Star. The two bring out the best in each other and their performances are further elevated by a staggeringly talented group of supporting and ensemble actors.
Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography keep the action moving at a swift pace and allow the cast members to move breezily from one beat to the next. He even makes a potentially tedious kick-line work to advantage.
I could certainly make my usual complaints that most of the tunes were forgettable and the characters broke out into song at annoying intervals. But since these criticisms are supplied by the show’s own book, instead I can report that I laughed at just about everything. Yes, it’s all over-the-top and ridiculous, but I appreciated the self-awareness of the piece. In fact my only disappointment is that my own chuckles and snorts got in the way of my hearing every line.
Something Rotten is currently playing at the St. James Theatre. For tickets and information visit http://rottenbroadway.com.