It was during the mid-first-act number “The Black Death”—a jaunty little song and dance celebrating the sunnier side of the bubonic plague—that I remembered I was supposed to be taking notes for this review. Was I having fun watching theater?
It didn’t hurt that Something Rotten! falls right into the center of my liberal arts’ vin diagram of Shakespeare, musical theater and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It also didn’t hurt that this is a very fresh touring production of Something Rotten! (yes, I see the joke), which only just last year closed on Broadway. But here’s the truth, Something Rotten! for all its frivolity and bold UN-seriousness is a cracker jack bit of musical theater and the best thing yet to grace the Eccles Stage.
The Tony-winning production, tells the tale of also-rans Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti) two brothers trying to make it big in Elizabethan England under the shadow of William Shakespeare (Daniel Beeman). In this farce, The Bard is Lady Gaga-huge on the Renaissance scene, strutting in the success of his hottest play so far, Romeo and Juliet. We meet the Bottom brothers in rehearsal for their telling of Richard the II at the very moment they discover that Shakespeare has already written that one up. “He just did Richard III. He is going backwards?” Nick whines, setting up the show’s first belly laughs with his exasperated song, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”
Nick, desperate to keep his financial backer on the line, spends his savings on the services of soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), the nephew of the Nostradamus. T. Nostra, proves he can see the future but his vision is seriously half-assed. Hazily peering across time, the seer (revelator?) convinces Nick that the future of theater is, wait for it, musicals. “I see cats, a stage full of singing cats!” Later, Nostradamus attempts to scry Shakespeare’s next success and glimpses the play we know as Hamlet, but the details come scattered through the cut-rate prophet and morph into Omelette: The Musical. Yes. A musical about breakfast foods. Yes. It’s ridiculous. And yes. We get to see Omelette: The Musical, which is the best fake musical within a musical since The Producers’ Springtime for Hitler.
I’ve been fortunate to have seen almost every production that has played the still-new Eccles Theater (I missed Elf and Jersey Boys, and Bodyguard, but did you really need me to make fun of those?) Without a doubt, Something Rotten! is the best production to command the Eccles stage. The jukebox musicals and Bodyguards that have passed through all gave off a whiff of the tendency toward safe, tried and true bookings (Hedwig and Book of Mormon aside). Who hasn’t seen The Lion King? Even the cast of The Lion King, which came through last year, is bored with The Lion King.
Not so with Something Rotten! Bagging the first tour of a recent hit Broadway show is proof of concept for Eccles boosters who sold the venue as a magnet for such productions. Before the play, Magic Space’s Bruce Granath (Magic Space is the booking agency for the Eccles) addressed the audience and tooted horns about April’s Hamilton splashdown. “Salt Lake is one of the first 10 cities in America to get Hamilton,” he said perhaps wishing he had a “Mission Accomplished” banner unfurled behind him. Take that Omaha!
My point here, despite the snark, is that the Eccles is working and Something Rotten! is evidence. The play does not disappoint. Last night, I watched a Broadway musical. If I’d emerged onto 44th Street in Manhattan afterwards instead of on Regent Street in Salt Lake City, I would not have been surprised. This, this is what we’re talking about people. We’re talking about a varsity, grade-A cast and ensemble who can sing, act, dance and be funny, which is the greatest trick of all.
McClure is hilariously perfect as the cringingly desperate Nick Bottom and Grisseti—who can sing, man, oh man, can he sing—falls in behind in solid support as his nerdy younger brother. Maggie Lakis brings second fiddle virtuosity as Nick’s ballsy wife (that’ll make sense when you see it). Meanwhile Autumn Hurlbert’s squeaky blonde portrayal of Portia, the daughter of the swishing Puritan killjoy Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote), seals the deal. Cote, by the way, has fantastic timing with his after-the-beat punchlines.
And then there’s Beeman’s Shakespeare. The play presents him as a peacocking rockstar. The Shakespeare in the Park bit (yes the play will make every Shakespeare joke you can imagine) “Will Power” will bowl you over with its break-it-down rendition of “what light thorough yonder window breaks?” And, although Beeman had the crowd in his hands all night, the second act’s “Hard to be the Bard,” with its Queen-style arrangement had me wishing that Freddie Mercury was still with us to play this part.
I could go on and on but basically, this play is the point of the Eccles Theater. If you’ve been holding off seeing a play here, this is the one to pull the trigger on. It’s a short run and tickets are scarce. Click here to see what’s left (and honestly consider KSL and StubHub for this one). Something Rotten! continues at the The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater through Jan. 14, 2018.
Go see plays.