To “Omelette” or not to “Omelette”? That is the question. From top to Bottom, there is comically something not so rotten about the scramble of musical and Shakespearean satire being served up at The Bushnell in Hartford.
‘Something Rotten,’ the brainchild of brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick that closed last year on Broadway, is a musical that is an ode to musicals, Shakespeare, and artistic inspiration. While its farcical nature pokes fun at both Broadway musicals like itself and William Shakespeare, it does so in an endearing way cherishing such theatrical works. The show cracks jokes that will resonate most with lovers of both genres, as you hear references to Shakespearean literature and a medley of iconic musicals.
The story is set in Renaissance England when Shakespeare is like a pop star. Adam Pascal is dressed in bedazzling, shiny jackets and accentuated spiky collars, embodying a captivating charismatic, self entitled celebrity who puts on a confident shell hiding how hard he really feels it is to be “the bard.” His audiences are staged as though they are fans rocking out at a concert. The production makes the comparison well. Even the orchestral score and songs are seemingly infused with themes from hits like “Kiss” by Prince, “We Are The Champions” by Queen, and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain.
As Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” plays at The Globe, the Bottom brothers – nerdy Nick (Rob McClure) and flamboyant poet Nigel (Josh Grisetti) – grapple for a new idea for a hit to replace their “Richard II” production to avoid further financial ruin after learning Shakespeare is putting on a play about the same subject. While Nigel is fanatic about Shakespeare, sneaking off to his private parties and performances with Puritan Juliet, Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), Nick Bottom – clearly a reference to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” along with the names of his acting troupe members – hates him. His competitive frustration drives him to use the last of his savings on getting a soothsayer to tell him what Shakespeare’s biggest hit will be so he can steal the idea and what type of show will be popular.
Blake Hammond’s eccentric Thomas Nostradamus spits out foggy references to “Hamlet,” mistakenly reading the name of the future smash as “Omelette,” and occasionally blurting out plot descriptions for musicals like “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The Music Man.” That leads Nick to become dead set on making a musical entitled “Omelette,” with songs referencing breakfast varietals like a danish and big numbers stringing together elements from major musicals like “The King and I,” “Chicago,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” It drives a wedge between him and Nigel, who yearns to write something that captures his soul, as Shakespeare, who historically is suspected of plagiarism, tries to steal their idea.
Despite the time period, the play is very relevant to modern audiences. Moments like Bea (Maggie Lakis) proclaiming women can find jobs equal to men because “it’s the 1690s” before dressing like a male to get work and the stark contrast between Brother Jeremiah’s (Scott Cote) flamboyance and austere, homophobic, and sin-fighting personas satirize struggles that still exist today in establishing identity amidst inequality. Juxtaposing the Renaissance with today made punchlines stronger as audience members acknowledge areas we still need work on societaly. The blend of older and newer musical styles and dance also brought the Renaissance into 2018.
Aside from the recognizable musical, Shakespeare, and historical references that drove that jokes, the physical comedy and expressions of actors from leads to ensemble members like the jolly minstrel were very effective in helping deliver humor. Grisetti particularly excelled at this in this puppy dog circle to bed, twitchy movements, and acting choices of innuendo like pulling his poems out of his fly. He and Hurlbert (Portia) do a great bit reacting to his poetry as though they are having sex, a comical metaphor for the connection you can have to art. Hammond also used physicality well making his Nostradamus burst with impassioned quirkiness.
The performers accentuated character over vocal musicality, leading to an intentionally nasally voice for McClure that wasn’t necessarily harmonious. But Lakis belted beautifully while still putting her stamp on how her character sounds.
Who knew that “Omelette The Musical” could actually be so enjoyable? When a play within a play is the butt of the joke, it will do that for you.
“Something Rotten!” runs through Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 4, at The Bushnell at 166 Capital Ave. More information on the production and purchasing tickets is available at www.bushnell.org.