If I were a betting man, I’d wager that “Something Rotten!’’ will be largely forgotten in 10 years, a theatrical footnote to an era dominated by “Hamilton’’ and “The Book of Mormon.’’
The rambunctiously good-natured, very broad “Something Rotten!’’ is not built to last. It’s built to entertain us in the here-and-now, and in that, it succeeds a reasonable amount of the time.
But even when you’re enjoying “Something Rotten!’’ at the Boston Opera House, where the musical comedy is launching a national tour, you want it to be better than it is — and you can’t help wondering why its creators resolutely refuse to aim higher than they do.
In crafting knockabout sendups of musical theater traditions that are the best part of the show, the creators of “Something Rotten!’’ are banking on the likelihood that you, too, view the inherently ludicrous conventions of the American musical with a combination of affection and eye-rolling bemusement. Moreover, if you’ve ever struggled through a Shakespeare sonnet or found yourself drowning in a sea of iambic pentameter, “Something Rotten!’’ feels your pain — and is eager to inflict some on the Bard and his lofty reputation.
While the show’s premise is a clever one and its spirits remain infectiously high throughout, the appealingly Python-esque absurdism of “Something Rotten!’’ is too often undercut by the kind of predictability that Monty Python seldom indulged in.
No joke or rhyme is too obvious, no fruit is too low-hanging for brothers and co-creators Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and their collaborators, director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw and co-librettist John O’Farrell. They pummel the audience with puns, sight gags, and punch lines you can see coming a mile away, punctuated by songs whose lyrics you’ll sometimes be able to finish yourself, even if you’re hearing them for the first time. Scenes do race by, thanks to the level of surging energy sustained by director Nicholaw, whose everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style will be familiar to fans of “The Book of Mormon,’’ which he co-directed and choreographed.
But “Something Rotten!’’ got off to a shaky start Wednesday night when the lyrics to the crucial scene-setting opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,’’ proved hard to hear. A similar problem bedeviled the next, equally important number, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.’’
Ah yes, that guy. The action takes place in London in the 1590s, deep into the Elizabethan era, and Shakespeare so completely dominates the British stage that there is little room for the efforts of combustible actor-impresario Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and his gangly, sensitive brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti), a playwright and poet.
How to compete with Shakespeare? What fresh new innovation can the Bottom brothers employ to draw audiences and lift themselves out of poverty and obscurity? Nick enlists the soothsaying power of Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), who peers into the distant future and declares that the path to success lies in something called a . . . musical. That pronouncement paves the way for the show’s liveliest, wittiest number, “A Musical,’’ which incorporates bits and pieces of everything from “Rent’’ to “A Chorus Line’’ to “Annie’’ while underscoring the fundamental preposterousness of a form in which people suddenly burst into song and dance out of nowhere.
The show revels in deliberate anachronism. Adam Pascal excels as a rock-star Shakespeare, performing his greatest hits (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?,’’ etc.) before a frenzied crowd in “Will Power.’’ The rest of the cast is similarly strong, including Maggie Lakis (who is married in real life to McClure) as Bea, Nick’s resourceful and indomitable wife; Autumn Hurlbert as Portia, the fair maiden who is wowed — make that aroused — by Nigel’s poetry; and Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah, a Puritan leader (and father of Portia) who is waging war on sin and theater.
It feels both predictable and a bit retrograde, however, to have Brother Jeremiah be a repressed gay man whose desires keep threatening to burst out of the closet, interfering with his moralistic fulminations. Also less-than-inspired is the central misunderstanding that drives “Something Rotten!’’ — Nostradamus mistakes “Hamlet’’ for “Omelette’’ — though it does furnish a pretext for the rousing “Make an Omelette.’’
For all its shortcomings, it’s difficult not to feel affection for a show that features numbers like “The Black Death,’’ a jovial ode to the plague highlighted by a chorus of scythe-wielding Grim Reapers. As we exited the Opera House, my literary-minded companion remarked that “Something Rotten!’’ is “the theatrical equivalent of a beach book.’’ Exactly. Beach books have their uses, of course, especially during a long, cold winter.
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell. Music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Presented by Broadway in Boston. At Boston Opera House, through Jan. 29. Tickets 800-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.com
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.