"Something Rotten!" arrives on Broadway with Hit! plastered all over it -- and I am not here to doubt it. As much as this corner attempts to be a buzz-free zone before official openings, the advance enthusiasms for the musical-comedy Renaissance spoof have been impossible to duck.
Suffice it to say that, despite my sincere desire to be at the party, the show's good-natured silly charms just feel hammered by an unrelenting tsunami of manic, frenetic, zanier-than-zaniest onslaught of collegiate show-biz humor.
Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw -- who, among other funny feats, codirected "The Book of Mormon" and choreographed "Spamalot" -- may be unchallenged today in his ability to put new spins on bushels of naughty-but-nice frolics. For "Rotten!," he has rounded up a pack of Broadway's most appealing clowns and set them loose on a project determined to make breathless (but, alas, not particularly fresh) reference to just about every musical of the last 70 years and every Shakespeare play.
It is 1595 and two brothers named Bottom are trying to compete with Shakespeare -- played like a rock star by adorable Christian Borle with groupies, a willingness to vibrate his butt in tight metallic leathers and a knack for stealing other people's ideas. (Sweet costumes, including conspicuously packed cod pieces, are by Gregg Barnes, with cartoony period sets by Scott Pask.)
Brian d'Arcy James is endearingly desperate as Nick Bottom, the minor playwright who tries to one-up Shakespeare's plans by visiting a soothsayer -- played by Brad Oscar as the nephew of Nostradamus, named Thomas. The seer recommends inventing the first musical. The problem is he misinterprets Shakespeare's plan for "Hamlet" as "Omlette." Enter "Omlette: The Musical."
Along the way, we get a shunned Jew named Shylock, who, yes, actually says verklempt, a pious Puritan with a soubrette daughter named Portia (Kate Reinders) who also doubles as Juliet to the Romeo of Nick's nebbishy poetic brother (John Cariani). And for strong females in the audience, there is Nick's restless wife (Heidi Blickenstaff), who says, "By the year 1600, women will be equal to men."
The jolly, jingle-driven music and low-comedy lyrics are also by brothers, Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, with a book by Karey and John O'Farrell. Two big showstoppers are insane musical numbers in which the chorus fast-forwards with nonstop snatches from the future of musicals -- including "Fiddler on the Roof," "Annie" and, of course, "A Chorus Line." Someone explains that "the crowd goes wild when dancers kick in unison." And so, it seemed to me, everyone else in the crowd did.
WHERE St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.
INFO $37-$142; 212-239-6200; rottenbroadway.com