Playwright: Karey Kirkpatrick & John O'Farrell ( book ), Wayne & Karey Kirkpatrick ( music, lyrics ). At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 800-775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com; $24-$95. Runs through: July 23
The energetic and upbeat music does the job in a variety of pop styles, but isn't particularly memorable.
The fast and mostly non-stop comedy unapologetically consists of shtick, puns and entendres doubles. The women's roles are secondary and the light-as-air plot is silliness personified, again without apologies. The borrowings from its betters ( a running gimmick of the show and surely not a coincidence ) leave no doubt that Something Rotten should be subtitled "Shakespeare in Love ... with Himself." Although brilliantly performedno flaws to be found in this castSomething Rotten! struck me as only intermittently amusing ... but when it did amuse me, I laughed out loud.
Like Shakespeare in Love, this show concerns rival Elizabethan playwrights in the 1590s. The down-on-his-luck playwright this time isn't Shakespeare, but collaborating brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom ( elfin, mischievous Rob McClure and appealingly gawky Josh Grisetti, respectively ). In fact, Shakespeare is portrayed as a sizzling-hot rock superstar ( still-sexy Adam Pascal doing a near-parody of himself ). Desperate for success, Nick spends his last money on a soothsayer who sees the future of theater. Nostradamus ( scene-stealing Blake Hammond, joyously returning to Chicago, where he started ) tells Nick to create "a musical," not that anyone knows what one is. Guided by Nostradamus, Nick and a reluctant Nigel create a musical about a Danish-eating prince who sees a ghost and is named Omelette. Also, Nigel falls for a Puritan preacher's daughter, Portia ( Autumn Hurlbert, a charming Kristen Chenoweth sound-alike ), and Nick's enterprising pregnant wife, Bea ( Maggie Lakis ), saves the day.
There are several production numbers that are brilliantly funny and dazzlingly staged. Nostradamus' big number, "A Musical," stops the show halfway through Act I, which is very rare, while Nick and company's Act II "Make an Omelette" does it again.
So, what is it I can't quite swallow? Well, I think Something Rotten! is a swell, funny off-Broadway idea that feels bloated and terminally cute as a big Broadway lollapalooza. The plot eventually becomes forced, the show is 10-12 minutes too long and the pumped-up Broadway pizzazz ( similar to most Broadway musicals ) strikes me ( always ) as phony bravura. Still, I enjoyed it more than not. The best bits are truly inspired, the cast is excellent and nothing is taken too seriously. If you hate Shakespeare, as Nick Bottom does, this one's for you.