Last summer, the musical Something Rotten! hit Dallas’ Winspear Opera House like a tidal wave; it ended up making my year-end list as the best tour I saw in 2017. Well, the same national tour is back, this time in Fort Worth… and it’s just as wonderful. Here’s a reminder of how good:
It’s 1595 London, and the Bottom Brothers, Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti) can’t catch a break with their company of actors. All the oxygen in the room is being sucked up by that pretentious upstart Shakespeare (Adam Pascal), and they need a surefire hit. Nick stoops to asking a soothsayer, Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), to peek into the future and tell him what will be the Next Big Thing. When the answer comes back, “Musicals!,” Nick is confused. But a few visions later — including numerous crossed-wires that result in a medley of musical phrases and iconic images from West Side Story to Annie to Rent to who-knows-what-else, we get a mini-history from Styne to Sondheim, with tons of prescient references to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and other characters the Bard of Avon has yet to conceive, weaving zingers from old tropes with modern twists.
Something Rotten! is one of the most joyously silly shows ever devised — like The Drowsy Chaperoneand The Producers, it’s a musical about musicals that reminds us how dumb musicals are … and how we nevertheless love them. Watching it is like a two-and-a-half-hour nerdgasm for theater queens. There are so many inside jokes, just being in the audience should qualify as surgical experience.
I’ve rarely seen a more energetic cast that glories in camping it up with fey gusto, reveling in the plentiful double entendres in songs like “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top,” “A Musical” and “Welcome to the Renaissance.” (There’s even a closeted Puritan secretly lusting for the very chorusboys he condemns.) Hammond and Pascal get the most scene-stealing moments, but McClure is a fireplug of charisma, and Grisetti’s sad-sack poet has many slyly funny-touching bits. By the time of the big play-within-a-play showstopper, “Omelette” — this show’s “Springtime for Hitler” — Something Rotten! has either won you over or worn you out. Whichever, you’ll leave doubled-over and exhausted by laughing so much.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Bass Performance Hall, 535 Commerce St., Fort Worth. Through Sunday.