“Something rotten” has raised its ugly head in the District these days and has nothing to do with either the unprecedented surge of outlandish antics committed by our nation’s elected officials or even the “science project” that’s has been hiding in the back of your refrigerator.
“Something Rotten!” refers to the hilarious production now on stage at the National Theatre in Northwest (which runs through Feb. 18) that pokes fun at the so-called roots of today’s theatrical musical. And while it’s just a make-believe story, couldn’t the playwright be on to something? Even more, maybe this hilarious show is just what we need here in D.C., given the frequent threat of government shutdowns, inexplicable stock market fluctuations and ill-advised “duels” that take place between Republican and Democratic members of Congress who refuse to find middle ground and compromise.
Flashback to the days of the Renaissance as Nick Rashad Burroughs, the wandering minstrel, sets the stage at the play’s beginning before we are catapulted into the present as he shares the fictitious tale of Nick and Nigel Bottom — two brothers who, in their quest for fame, end up inventing the musical.
Sometime during the 16th century, Nick (Rob McClure) forms a theater company which includes a then-unknown William Shakespeare as one of the production’s actors.
After a colossal failure, Nick, armed with the input of his sonnet-writing brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti) seeks out their next theatrical venture.
Down on his luck and money, Nick’s wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) sets out to secure employment, so desperate that the ventures out in the guise of a man. Nick takes off with what little money they have and hires a psychic who just happens to be a relative of the “original” Nostradamus, Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond).
That’s where the laughs begin, maintaining a steady pace until the play’s conclusion while a talented cast sings, tap dances and delivers slapstick jokes — all resulting in the creation of the world’s first musical.
Actor Adam Pascal’s portrayal of Shakespeare, appears as a cross between Billy Idol, Sting and the incomparable Freddie Mercury, the lead singer from the group Queen, and is superb as the play’s protagonist while also bearing the persona of an over-the-top rock star.
Many of the play’s scenes provide song and dance routines as well as men unafraid to express their inner feelings as they abandon their trousers, suspenders and cuff-linked shirts so they can put on their more-preferred dresses. It’s all just a taste of this cleverly-crafted spoof.
At the same time, the intricacy of the dialogue calls on one’s knowledge of the Middle Ages, Shakespearean theater, modern pop culture and a number of Broadway musicals, which are referenced and alluded to throughout the two-hour plus production.
But the time passes quickly, as more absurd theatrical numbers build up to the climax of the play — Omelette the Musical, complete with tap dancing eggs.
While it may sound as if “Something Rotten!” is a bit too much for the average Joe to handle, I guarantee you’ll love it.
The play is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Casey Nicholaw with music and lyrics by Grammy Award-winner and Tony nominee Wayne Kirkpatrick and Golden Globe Award and Tony nominee Karey Kirkpatrick and a book by Tony nominees Karey Kirkpatrick and best-selling author John O’Farrell.
For more information, go to www.thenationaldc.org.