Is Some Theater As Good As Sex? Well, Yes, and if You Love Musicals, You Really Need to Hit 'Something Rotten!'

Something Rotten!

Through May 14 at Playhouse Square, Connor Palace, 1615 Euclid

Avenue, 216-241-6000,

If you love Broadway musicals (or even if you hate them), there is a show in town that will massage your theatrical g-spot to multiple orgasms. Of course, searching for a partner's actual physical g-spot can sometimes resemble a futile journey to the lost city of Atlantis: "How about here? No? Okay, how about here?" But this production involves no such frustration.

In fact, Something Rotten! is such a powerful turn-on for Broadway lovers, it should be delivered in a plain brown wrapper. But there it is, for all to see, at Playhouse Square. There are so many reasons to love this show, with music and lyrics by brothers Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick—Karey also wrote the book with John O'Farrell—that I'm forced to segment the review into separate erogenous zones.

If you love a clever premise you'll palpitate for Something Rotten! In fact, the premise is so shrewd, you'll hate yourself for not thinking of it first. We're back in Shakespeare's time and two brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are hack writers trying to fend off the tsunami of popularity surrounding the Bard. After flaming him in the witty song unambiguously titled "I Hate Shakespeare," they try to figure out a way to compete with the Brilliant One. Later young Will, played by a magnetic Adam Pascal, gets his revenge when he performs in a leafy bower (it's the first "Shakespeare in the Park"), as an iambic pentameter "rock star" the ladies swoon over.

In desperation, Nick decides to consult a soothsayer named Nostradamus. No, not that one—it's his somewhat less talented cousin, Thomas. And Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) shares with Nick that popular plays in the future will include... wait for it... singing in addition to talking. These plays will be called "musicals!" Of course, this sounds preposterous to Nick, but he shares the tip with Nigel and off they go to write such a piece.

On the other hand, if you love irreverent comedy you'll gasp for Something Rotten! It sends up damn near every musical you can remember, and it does so at times with only a few notes of certain iconic songs. These are woven together in the show-stopping number "A Musical," which is a huge production number, taken way over the top in tongue-in-cheek fashion. And it will send some into paroxysms of delight. Indeed, the audience on this evening applauded so long for this one song, some patrons might have developed carpal tunnel syndrome on the spot.

Then again, if you love making fun of Puritans (with a capital P or not) you'll throb for Something Rotten! Nigel falls for the lovely Portia (Autumn Hurlburt), the daughter of the strait-laced Puritan leader, Brother Jeremiah. The good Brother (an amusing Scott Cote) is so sexually repressed his every utterance is laced with double entendres that he can't control. His unwitting lapses serve as a running joke throughout the proceedings, and these mini-meltdowns never seem to lose their snap.

And if you love poking fun at composers and lyricists that center a musical on what might seem inappropriate themes (the serial killer in Sweeney Todd or the presidential assassins in Assassins), you'll sigh for Something Rotten! The Bottom brothers' first attempt at a musical is titled "The Black Death," and they sing about it in a song that trills: "It's getting closer, it's getting grosser/Soon everything that's dangling won't be any good for dingling."

The jokes, naughty and otherwise, come at a fast and furious pace in this comedic juggernaut. Still, there's time for some canoodling as Nigel and Portia get amorous. Meanwhile, Nick goes back to Nostradamus and asks what Shakespeare's next big hit will be. The klutzy fortuneteller conjures up a fuzzy vision of a soon-to-be written Hamlet but he gets a couple consonants wrong and tells Nick it will be called Omelet, which will have a Danish prince as its center. Nick only hears the Danish part, thinks the play is about breakfast, and charges off in a very wrong and very funny direction.

Finally, if you love engaging performances and big-time scenic design, you'll come to a new place of joy with Something Rotten! In the roles of Nick and Nigel, Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti perform with unstinting scads of energy and sell their songs to the max. And Scott Pask's scenic design is at times jaw-droppingly gorgeous, changing almost instantaneously from a dark and spooky side street where Nostradamus hangs out to the Globe Theater to a courtroom.

While Something Rotten! gets nearly everything right—and right in a way that is quite transporting—it must be said that the conclusion of the story and the finale lack the snap and sizzle that the rest of the show demonstrates. But hey, this is such a satisfying and glorious session in the theater, even non-smokers might feel tempted to light up and relax after this theatrical roll in the sheets.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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