Thursday, January 4, 2018

theatre review

An inspiration took me to go see the national touring company of the recent Broadway musical Something Rotten! The nearest it was coming to me, at least on this round, was Sacramento, so thither I went today. Sacto is a two-hour drive from here at the best of times, which dictated a weekday matinee for me. I feared it would be somnolent, but an appreciative audience of all ages (including children: perhaps schools are still on winter break?) and a skilled cast with energy and enthusiasm assured it was not.

As a meta-show about Shakespeare, filled with deliberate anachronisms, this work occupies a conceptual space close to Shakespeare in Love, only less clever and less light-handed. The principal characters are a pair of journeyman play-writing brothers in 1590s London, struggling to make their way in a show biz dominated by Shakespeare, who is depicted as an acclaimed glam-style rock star with all the patina of unique renown that the real Shakespeare didn't acquire until he was more than a century dead. This Shakespeare pleases rapturous fans by giving rapper-style concerts consisting of repeating famous lines from his early plays. He also, it appears, has plagiarized most of his output, especially from our heroes.

Frustrated, one of the brothers consults a soothsayer, asking him to identify Shakespeare's greatest as-yet-unwritten play, so that he can plagiarize it back. The soothsayer's crystal ball is cloudy, and the best he can come up with is something about a ham omelette, so that's the topic of what the brothers put on. The crystal ball also produces a number of lines and references from far-future musicals, from The Sound of Music to Cats, which also find their way into the production, puzzling the recipients rather in the manner of the Roach in Dave Sim's Cerebus receiving intimations of (as of the date the story takes place) yet-unwritten comic book superheroes.

It was fast-paced, and silly, and bawdy, and full of rocked-up songs that were energetic without being either memorable or dull. I did learn, however, that the co-author was responsible for the screenplays of the movies of The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Spiderwick Chronicles, which are not achievements I would point to with pride. This musical was at least better than those. I am not at all unhappy I saw this, but going to Sacramento for the likes of it is not a thing I would wish to do very often.

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