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By Brian Scott Lipton


Let’s face it, you’re almost asking for trouble when you name your new musical “Something Rotten.” Luckily, for both audiences and the cast and creators of this extravagant and extravagantly funny show at the St. James Theatre, the result is something delightful. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (also represented now on Broadway by the equally crowd-pleasing “Aladdin”) pulls out every trick in his theatrical book to keep you from laughing so hard and smiling so much you’re likely to overlook the show’s flaws until you’ve left the theater.

The title itself is a pun from the work of William Shakespeare (embodied here in rock-star fashion by the charismatic Christian Borle (who seems to be channeling both Mick Jagger and Tim Curry), the beloved Bard of Avon, and it certainly helps your appreciation of the show if you know Will’s work. You can barely count the references to Shakespeare’s plays and characters in Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’ Farrell’s quip-filled book (provided you actually get all of them!)

And it helps your enjoyment of the show even more if you get the seemingly gazillion in-joke references to musical theater contained in the show-stopping first-act number “A Musical,” which illustrates the prediction given to Shakespeare’s frustrated rival Nick Bottom (the dashing Brian D’Arcy James) by the second-rate soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (a scene-stealing Brad Oscar).

Ok, so he ultimately gets a couple of details wrong, and the result is the hilarious, equally show-stopping “Omelette the Musical,” which further takes advantage of the remarkable terpsichorean talents of a hard-working ensemble and the ingenuity of the great Gregg Barnes’ costuming.

Yet, for all of its high points, something is missing from the show – a real heart. The rather self-absorbed Nick gives little thought to the feelings of his shy, serious-minded younger brother Nigel (a charming John Cariani) or his almost saintly wife Bea (the lovely Heidi Blickenstaff), yet they both forgive him so easily. Moreover, Nigel’s romance with local gal Portia (the goofy Kate Reinders) – daughter of the Puritanical (if seemingly homosexual) preacher Brother Jeremiah (an outrageously fey Brooks Ashmanskas) — simply seems tacked on. And while the show’s tunes by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick are all hummable – especially the opener “Welcome to the Renaissance” – they feel somewhat similar to each other, as well as derivative of other musicals.

Still, “Something Rotten” will be something very welcome to theatergoers in search of light entertainment, and may leave certain audience members nothing short of eggs-tatic.

St. James Theatre 246 West 44th Street, 212-239-6200, Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.

Photos: Joan Marcus