National touring production of "Something Rotten!" lives up to expectations in visit to Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre .
Brevity, as the one and only William Shakespeare wrote (or did he?), may be the soul of wit, but the creators of "Something Rotten!" never met a pun or a piece of shtick they couldn't stretch.
The result, which you can catch at the Hippodrome Theatre through Sunday (and you should), is a musical that takes the slenderest of plot ideas and gives it an extended, delirious spin.
In a nutshell: London, 1590s. Two struggling, play-writing brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, are desperate to get some of the fame lavished on Shakespeare. Thanks to a seer's partly accurate predictions, they whip up the world's first musical — "Omelette."
Just describing that bare outline is enough to conjure up visions of the stern colonel who stopped Monty Python sketches because they were too silly.
Silly doesn't begin to describe what Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell pack into their book for this musical, or what Kirkpatrick and his brother Wayne Kirkpatrick pour into the catchy score. But you'd have to have a serious humor deficiency to resist the fun and manic energy of this fanciful concoction.
"Something Rotten!" is, as the Kirkpatrick brothers have said, a love letter to the musical. Given that the music is far above the usual pedestrian level that passes for inspired these days in the theater, that love letter really delivers.
OK, so some of the material is way too obvious or too redolent of Mel Brooks. But that's a small price to pay for the send-up of things Shakespearean (including a riff on the age-old theory that he didn't write his plays), and all the delicious puns and the allusions to famous musicals.
The first big dose of this comes midway through Act 1, when Nick gets a glimpse of the future from Nostradamus (no, not that Nostradamus) in a song called "A Musical." It's a production number to end all production numbers.
On Tuesday, the opening night crowd at the Hippodrome went nuts for this cleverly constructed flourish of melody, lyric and stage business (the prolonged response seemed to surprise the performers), and no wonder.
That "Something Rotten!" gets awfully close to delivering a second show-stooper in Act 2 — depicting the wacky premiere of "Omelette" — says a lot about the inventiveness going on here.
None of this would go down smoothly without a well-honed, genuine comedic actors who can also sing up a storm. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, the national tour cast, which boasts three leads from the closing months of the original Broadway production, is first-rate across the boards. (A mushy, pushy sound system does the performers no favors.)
Rob McClure bounds winningly through the role of Nick. Josh Grisetti nearly steals the show with his disarming, gangly charm as Nigel.
Like a young Tim Curry, Adam Pascal brings a vibrantly expressive face and the smoothest of moves to the role of Shakespeare, here depicted as a rock star with a ready repertoire of bon mots.
There's terrific supporting work from Blake Hammond (Nostradamus), Maggie Lakis (Nick's wife, Bea), Autumn Hurlbert (Nigel's love interest, Portia) and Scott Cote as an impure-thought-filled Puritan.
Scott Pask's colorfully detailed scenic design (the Shakespeare bobble head on the Bard's desk adds a cute touch) and Gregg Barnes's droll costumes provide continual visual enjoyment.
You can find some real, honest-to-goodness serious thoughts in "Something Rotten!" about relationships or art versus commercialism, but they're appropriately fleeting. This is an unabashed, leave-your-cares-and-woes-behind, just-want-to-have-fun type of show, and it couldn't be more successful. Or more welcome.