OMAHA | The premise of “Something Rotten!” is so very, very good you’ll want to hear its songs over and over again, just to get all the inside jokes.
Borrowing more bits and pieces from Broadway hits than a cabaret star, the new show, which opened Tuesday at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, suggests just how musicals got their start.
The setting is the Renaissance, where William Shakespeare is a cultural rock star and every other writer is a pretender -- a cover band, if you will. To break the stranglehold, a frustrated Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) goes to a soothsayer named Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) who looks into the future and sees all sorts of visions, most of them scrambled. He suggests the unthinkable – a musical – and before you know it, the writer is hard at work on “Omelette, the Musical.”
Thanks to Hammond’s big first-act showstopper, “A Musical,” the stage is set for plenty of oh-my-god fun. That Casey Nicholaw (one of the brains behind “The Book of Mormon”) is the director and choreographer of this is totally understandable. A genius of 10-second references and hip pops, he manages to identify dozens of shows in a matter of minutes. Hammond gooses every one of them and gives McClure plenty of ammo for his own comedic assault.
Unfortunately, Bottom’s brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti) isn’t so sure he wants to go from verse to worse. He thinks there’s plenty of life left in drama and isn’t afraid to approach his idol, Shakespeare (Adam Pascal).
Shakespeare, however, is hardly the mentor he’d like him to be. Paranoid, grabby and totally self-centered, he isn’t above stealing from others to make himself the best. Pascal, the original Roger in “Rent,” plays on his rock star past to demonstrate where there’s a way there’s a Will. He’s every inch the idol, finally admitting it’s “Hard to be the Bard.” He bumps and grinds with the best of them and makes the most of a group of backup dancers who know how to make the magic happen.
Back home, Nick’s wife (Maggie Lakis) is struggling with her own identity crisis. She wants equal rights, a country home and a life that isn’t so transient. With “Right Hand Man,” she fills the theater’s corners and stakes a claim to her own corner of the show.
Written by brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, “Something Rotten!” is so stuffed with theatrical Easter eggs it’s better than a “Jeopardy!” game filled with Broadway categories. Shakespeare scholars get their moments of fun, too, but this show doesn’t require a whit of prior knowledge to enjoy. It’s its own age of enlightenment.
McClure and Grisetti, too, are ideal as the brothers with big ideas. While the former hits every mark with precision, the latter adds flourishes even Nickolaw couldn’t have imagined. The show’s costumes and sets provide their own inside jokes and the choreography lands eggs-actly where it should.
When the writers introduce a group of Puritans (led by a “what did he just say?” Scott Cote), the action heats up and we’re just minutes away from a relationship with Brother Jeremiah’s daughter Portia (Autumn Hurlbert, who also sings like a dream). Roll them all together (and toss in a Shylock for good measure) and this “Something Rotten!” rocks from beginning to end. It’s something wonderful.