Theater review: ‘Something Rotten!’ still a crowd-pleaser

“Something Rotten!” plays an open run at the St. James Theatre | 246 W. 44th St. | RottenBroadway.com

This is an ideal time to catch the Shakespeare-inspired musical comedy “Something Rotten!,” which got overshadowed when it opened on Broadway a year-and-a-half ago by the brilliance of “Fun Home,” the stunning visuals of “An American in Paris” and of course “Hamilton” (which was finishing its downtown run and building buzz).

Thanks to an injection of new talent into the show (including Rob McClure, Josh Grisetti, Leslie Kritzer and Will Chase), Casey Nicholaw’s production is as fresh and lively as ever. McClure, Grisetti and Kritzer are terrific young actors with incredible comedic abilities and big voices, while Chase brings a bad-boy, glam-rock edge to the part of Shakespeare.

It’s easy to liken “Something Rotten!” to other broad, over-the-top musical comedies such as “The Producers,” “Spamalot” and “The Book of Mormon.” But upon a second viewing, “Something Rotten!” struck me as not just like “The Producers,” but literally “The Producers” (which also played the St. James Theatre) set in Elizabethan England.

In “The Producers,” a struggling Broadway producer (joined by a sensitive accountant) schemes to put on a show that is sure to flop, going so far as to put on a loony tribute to Hitler, which leads to an elaborate show-within-a-show sequence, disaster, a courtroom scene and a happy ending.

In “Something Rotten!,” a struggling playwright (joined by his sensitive brother) schemes to become more successful than Shakespeare (who is portrayed as a strutting, self-loving pop star), going so far as to enlist a soothsayer to reveal a future fad he can steal (musicals!), which leads to all the same things as in “The Producers.”

The haywire plotting goes adrift during act two (making little sense by then), but on the whole, “Something Rotten!” is an exuberant crowd-pleaser with old-fashioned showmanship, hyperactive silliness, hummable songs, likable characters and show-stopping production numbers.