Missed The Boat: Something Rotten


The West End definitely missed a trick with this one in 2016. When everywhere else was cashing in on it being the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, London’s big theatres missed the opportunity to bring Karey & Wayne Kirkpatrick’s Bard-based musical to a new audience. And, as my luck always seems to go, it closed on Broadway a couple of months before my trip to New York; a US tour wasn’t something I could try to catch at that point either.

Set in 1595, William Shakespeare is at the top of his game and producing hit after hit. Nick & Nigel Bottom, meanwhile, are still struggling to make their way in the business – Nick has reached breaking point, openly declaring his hatred for Shakespeare. In a last-ditch attempt at success, following the advice of Nostradamus’ nephew, the brothers devise the first ever musical: Omelette. They’re also bidding to get to Shakespeare’s greatest work before he does, but the Bard finds out and humiliates them once again – the Bottoms are sent into exile in the New World, but they take their theatrical innovation with them and create the first great American musical.

Something Rotten
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The beauty of this show is that it could conceivably appeal to practically anyone. It both celebrates & pokes fun at Shakespeare and musicals; the Bard’s genius is acknowledged, as well as the fact that it didn’t guarantee he was perfect, and musical theatre is pastiched & parodied throughout, all the while utilising the genre to great effect in telling their story. Probably the best examples are God, I Hate ShakespeareWill Power and A Musical – I can only imagine what this might look like on a stage. Especially as it even manages to include tap dancing!

I can imagine the sort of people who have been vociferously against Emma Rice’s tenure at the Globe couldn’t bear to even consider the concept, even though it does celebrate Shakespeare, as all those I’ve come into contact with have been very resistant to innovating or cutting the text up a bit – and, of course, it does make him look less than perfect in places. It might appeal to the odd non-musical fan, as it is quite tongue-in-cheek and isn’t completely sung-through, so there is some script to break up the singing & dancing.

Something Rotten B-Roll
Something Rotten
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Obviously I can’t judge the show as well as the Great Comet, as bits of the plot are developed through dialogue rather than the songs – and you can’t assume that the book will be good simply because the songs are (just look at most of the jukebox musical sub-genre), but I think my confidence in this one is justified. The wordplay in the lyrics is superb, as well as there being plenty of giggle aloud one-liners (“Don’t be a penis, the man is a genius” is one of my favourites). It also helps that this recording includes some top Broadway talent, including Drama Desk & Tony Award-winning Christian Borle as William Shakespeare.

The comedy & joy of the show really comes through, as the music leaps out of the speakers and sparks your imagination. There’s also a synopsis (& lyrics) provided in the CD leaflet, so you can fill the gaps that way, as well as get a flavour for the look of the piece; Scott Pask’s set looks fantastic in combination with Tudor-esque costume design from Gregg Barnes. I haven’t given up on this one completely, as there is definitely a place for it (when we stop reviving the same shows over & over again) and I’m sure a British audience would lap it up.

Something Rotten B-Roll
Something Rotten
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Something Rotten [original Broadway cast recording] was released on 2 June 2015 on Ghostlight Records. You can buy the album online.

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