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Something Rotten
Photograph: Joan Marcus

New cast of Broadway’s Something Rotten! keeps the comedy fresh

By David Cote
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Something Rotten!, now vying with The Book of Mormon for funniest musical on Broadway, has the distinction of being the longest surviving show from the 2014–15 season. Finding Neverland closes shop August 21, Fun Home bids adieu September 10, and An American in Paris takes its final plié October 9. All industry eyes are on Rotten! to see how long it will last.

After a recent performance with the replacement cast, I can happily report the production’s in excellent shape. If you read my five-star review, you already know I love this goofy mash-up of Elizabethan nerdity and shameless showbiz spoofing. Something Rotten! is the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti), hard-up playwright-actor brothers trying to make a living in a theater scene dominated by that plagiarizing popinjay Shakespeare (Will Chase). With the help of a kindly but unreliable soothsayer, Nostradamus (Brad Oscar, who originated the role), Nick discovers that the most popular stage entertainment of the future will be something called a “musical.” He subsequently learns the name of Shakespeare’s most famous play. Cue rehearsals for an abomination called Omelette: The Musical!

It’s a credit to the fine book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and the songs by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick that this sketch-comedy premise can sustain a full-length show full of laughs. The emotional core is the fraught but loving relationship between Nick and Nigel, along with wry support from Nick’s sensible wife, Bea (Leslie Kritzer). Catherine Brunell adds daffy sweetness as Portia, the poetry-loving daughter of a fire-breathing Puritan who falls in love with nervous Nigel.

Anyone who knows Broadway knows that McClure, Grisetti, Chase and Kritzer are names to conjure with, powerhouse talents who can and have headlined shows on their own. McClure (Honeymoon in Vegas) brings a sweaty edge of desperation to Nick, while Grisetti tamps down some of the frenetically shy aspects of Nigel to reveal more backbone. Chase makes Shakespeare even more of a despicable (yet sexy) narcissist, and Kritzer continues to steal every scene she’s in. I won’t go so far as to say the replacement cast is better than the original, but they’re damn fine, and Casey Nicholaw’s breezily demented staging hasn’t lost any snap or sass.

Still, any show that doesn’t have Hamilton levels of critical approval faces a tough road after a year. Last week the show only filled 73% of the house and took in half of its potential box office. Unless word of mouth gets out that the current cast is terrific, one of my favorite musicals from last year may soon be history.

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