With going to the theatre as frequently as I do, it can sometimes be easy to regard what many see as a special treat as a normal or mundane experience. I can occasionally feel like going to the theatre to review a show is a bit of a chore and I often don’t enjoy the experience half as much as I should. But all those feelings were kept firmly at bay as I (quite literally) ran up the stairs of the St James Theatre in New York to enjoy my first ever Broadway show, Something Rotten!
As is the case with so many Broadway shows, it is easy to become so obsessed and familiar with them without even stepping foot inside the theatre. This was exactly how I felt before seeing Something Rotten! – I’d been a big fan of the soundtrack and watched numerous videos of songs on YouTube, but not once did I ever expect to actually be lucky enough to get to see the show in New York. Something Rotten! is set in Renaissance England and follows two brothers – Nick and Nigel Bottom – as they attempt to create the world’s first musical and oust William Shakespeare as the world’s greatest playwright.
The show itself did not let me down with enough innuendos to last Scott Mills years and just the right amount of childish, random humour that it didn’t become irritating. It is also very clever in the way it weaves references to both other musicals and Shakespeare plays into the story – some of them so cleverly hidden that only a few audience members got the joke, but others so obvious that everyone was in stitches. My only real criticism would be that the second half is far from as good as the first, but it by no means drags down the show as a whole and in fact one of the final songs Something Rotten ! / Make an Omelette was one of the funniest of the night.
Everyone in the cast gets their moment to shine – from the incomparable Brad Oscar during A Musical to the ensemble’s fantastic egg dancing, clad in full egg costume, during Make an Omelette. Also fantastic is Josh Grisetti as the humble and endearing Nigel Bottom, along with his complete opposite Will Chase, who makes a confident and arrogant Shakespeare.
Musically the show is fantastic, with Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick’s score incorporating so many jokes, references and styles that it’s almost hard to keep up. This level of variation keeps the show so entertaining and refreshing that you just have to go home and listen to the recording again (and again and again) until you’re word perfect. Favourites include the gospel inspired We See The Light and the tap-dance battle between Shakespeare and Nick Bottom (sounds ridiculous, but trust me it’s incredible) during Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top.
As if the show needed anything more, the costumes and staging are also incredible. This seems to be something typical of Broadway shows (well, based on the three I have now seen) even more so than West End theatre. The budget for these shows is clearly huge, and this shines through in the design. Set pieces appear and disappear almost out of nowhere to create a whole host of different locations. Gregg Barnes’ Renaissance inspired costume design never fails to delight, from large flowing dresses right the way through to huge egg costumes complete with fabric yolk which flies out when the actors’ heads pop out the top.
I really couldn’t have asked for a better first Broadway experience. I almost feel as if seeing Something Rotten! has reignited my love for musicals, and demonstrated that it can still be as exhilarating as the first time I ever step foot inside a theatre.