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Getting the Joke: The humor found in “Something Rotten!”October 25, 2018
The laugh lines in the Broadway hit Something Rotten! flow from different sources.
Some come at the expense of William Shakespeare, the rock star of his day, here played as a world-weary writer who finds being famous so much more enjoyable than actually coming up with new ideas.
Some are pointed at musical theater itself, a veritable feast for fans and geeks who adore Rent, Cats, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Les Misérables, Annie and dozens of other iconic musicals from the Broadway cannon.
Others are bawdy, with the judgmental Puritan leader Brother Jeremiah helplessly slipping into sexually-tinged double entendre, and his daughter Portia experiencing a sonnet read by her writer-beau Nigel Bottom as if it were their first time (and not in a literary sense).
The show’s humor, the work of brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick (score), Karey and John O’Farrell (book), director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw and music arranger Glen Kelly, has been tested, vetted and carefully calibrated so that theatergoers can have a good time whether they know a lot or only a little about Shakespeare and/or musical theater.
O’Farrell recalls, “We’d be sitting around, trying to write a song or a scene, and Wayne and Karey would say, ‘You know that song from Sunday in the Park With George?’ And I’d say no. And I’d say, ‘You know that thing in The Taming of the Shrew?’ And they’d say no,” O’Farrell recalls.
“We were conscious of not wanting to be so inside that you could only get it if you had seen the most obscure musicals,” Wayne Kirkpatrick says. “We went broad, purposely. We referenced not only the musicals that inspired us, but also musicals people would know even if they hadn’t seen them, or maybe they’d only seen the movie. The same with Shakespeare. Everybody knows some Shakespeare lines. There are a lot of what we refer to as his ‘hits’, that everybody is going to know.”
The end result is a show so fresh and funny, audiences of all ages and backgrounds love it. “It doesn’t matter how much you know,” director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw confirms. “My nieces and nephews say it’s their favorite show that I’ve done and they don’t know any of the references.”
O’Farrell concludes, “If it works as a musical for people who don’t know musicals or Shakespeare, then I’m happy. It’s about show business and putting on a show. The show works on many levels, but the main level it works on, I hope, is that it’s just a great fun night out.”
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