Something Rotten! is a ditzy satire that takes a wry poke at wannabe-ism and artistic celebrity; while it may not be the deepest or drollest of musicals, the choreography is great, the lyrics are clever, and the comic performances are entertainingly on the mark. Set in Elizabethan England, it features Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) as a serpentine plagiarist who glitters like a rock star, with aspiring writer-producers Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti) as his desperate rivals struggling to compete.
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, with book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell and music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, the story unfolds after the Bottom brothers’ patron, Lord Clapham (Joel Newsome), demands they come up with a new idea or lose his support. Desperate, Nick raids his wife’s “money box,” and uses her savings to consult Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), the nephew of the famous clairvoyant, to learn what, in future, Shakespeare’s greatest play is likely to be — his plan being to beat the Bard to the punch.
Unfortunately for Nick, Thomas’ imperfect soothsaying skills yield misleading answers; instead of Hamlet, he sees “omelet” (as well as “ham” and “Danish”), leading Nick to become obsessed with the notion of a musical about eggs. His insistence on going with Thomas’ vision eventually leads to a rift with Nigel, a gifted writer (and supposedly the real author of Shakespeare’s greatest lines), who prefers being true to himself over participating his bro’s ludicrous project.
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The show opens with “Welcome to the Renaissance,” a lively number that instantly spotlights the terrific ensemble, whose unflagging vitality and accomplished performances are constant throughout. The plot threads include Nick’s relationship with his levelheaded wife (Maggie Lakis), who wants a job outside their home, and Nigel’s verboten romance with the daughter (Autumn Hurlbert) of a Puritan elder. While these scenes are OK (the feminist theme is a bit forced), it’s the dynamite dancing and the waggish songs (with their epigrammatic references to multiple Broadway shows such as West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof) that are the heart of the fun.
As Nick, the physically agile McClure relays the abiding essence of frustrated showbiz ambition. Pascal’s Bard, arrogant, glitzy and platinum blond, oozes tawdriness and duplicity. Hammond’s befuddled prophet deserves the laughs he gets, while Scott Cote as a swishy fire-and-brimstone fanatic plays his closeted character with clipped, comical nuance. In the throes of first love, Grisetti’s straightforward young poet serves up a pleasant contrast to the otherwise loony antics.
Gregg Barnes’ period costumes (which the capering actors handle with great skill) and Jeff Croiter’s flashy, variegated lighting add to the buoyant ambiance.
Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave, downtown. (213) 972-4400, centertheatregroup.org; through Dec. 31.