Something Rotten tells the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, playwrights in Elizabethan England attempting to outdo Shakespeare himself. Trying to create something truly original, the brothers end up producing England’s very first musical with the help of a surprisingly accurate, if spotty, soothsayer. Hilarious and riddled with references to musical theater, Shakespeare and rock and roll, the show is fun, if not particularly substantive.
With the opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” the audience is beautifully ushered into the world of the play. The year is 1595—but not quite. The costumes and sets are based in history, but the music, cultural mixing and vocabulary of the characters is distinctly modern. This song is a very clever way to start the show as it switches styles multiple times between traditional musical theater and rock and roll, as the show itself does throughout.
The most enjoyable and prevalent aspects of the show are the near-constant references to other shows. Shakespearean plays and sonnets are quoted regularly, of course, and certain rock and roll themes show up at times. The heart and soul of the show, however is paying homage to the musicals of Broadway. The most obvious example is during the song, “A Musical,” which is, unsurprisingly, stuffed full of references to classic musicals. Every type of show, from Rent to Annie, get brief nods as the soothsayer tries to explain what a musical is to Nick Bottom.
Unfortunately, the show’s best aspect is also its biggest downfall. The more you know about theater and Shakespeare, the more fun it is to try and find all the little references packed into the show. Unfortunately, this turns the show into a mental treasure hunt rather than a story in its own right. The fun of the show comes almost entirely from its references to other media. As a result, the plot ends up feeling lack luster and trite compared to the terrific work it references.
Still, on the whole, the show is fun. There are plenty of giggle-ready moments and truly delightful references. The more you love musical theater and Shakespeare, the more enjoyable Something Rotten will be. It is not the most original or memorable story in and of itself, but it’s funny in all the right ways.
Something Rotten is playing at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts (255 S. Almaden Boulevard) January 29 through February 3, 2019. Tickets range from $43 - $158.
Photos courtesy of Jeremey Daniel