Written By Karey Kirkpatrick (book, music, and lyrics), Wayne Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics), and John O’Farrell (book)
Directed and Choreographed By Casey Nicholaw (Tony award winner for Best Direction for The Book of Mormon)
Produced By Kevin McCollum (Tony award winner for Best Musical for Rent, Avenue Q, and In the Heights)
A musical about two brothers, Nick and Nigel, (played superbly by Brian d’Arcy James and John Cariani, respectively) who are desperately trying to be playwrights during the height of Shakespeare’s popularity in Elizabethan England during the Renaissance, but they can’t seem to succeed outside of his shadow. Nick decides to consult a soothsayer about what Shakespeare’s next big hit will be so that he and Nigel can write it before Shakespeare does. Hilarity ensues as they attempt to write, upon the soothsayer’s recommendation, the world’s first musical called Omelette. (Yeah…you read that right.) A sweet budding romance and a tight leather pants clad, rock star version of Shakespeare who believes his own press (played powerfully and intricately by two-time Tony winner Christian Borle) round out the story. There is dancing and singing and general merriment. It is by far one of the greatest pieces of live theatre I’ve ever seen. This company is phenomenal, and the entire show is the love letter to end all love letters to Broadway.
I recently spent three whirlwind Rotten! days in New York City, but before we get into everything, let’s back up just a bit to May when the cast of Broadway’s Something Rotten! appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. At that point, all I could think was “I need to see this show.” It was a five-minute segment of shortened versions of two songs from the show, and in that amount of time, I was hooked. In the days and weeks following the appearance I soaked in everything I could find about it from youtube videos to articles to pictures to reviews (even the deplorably bad ones…I’m looking at you NY Times) to the Drama Desk Awards to the Tony Awards. Once I had built this arsenal of research, I started looking at the calendar. I needed to see this sooner rather than later, so I planned a trip north for what I thought would be seeing the show once while I was there. Then, I looked at the show times and decided if I was going to New York City to see this show, why not see every performance they have while I’m there?! So, I did…three times. Now, follow me to the Renaissance…where everything is new.
I took the train up because it gave me more arrival time options, and Wednesday was a two-show day, so I had to make it in time for the 2pm matinee. Despite some weather delays, I still made it to the city in plenty of time to check-in to my hotel and get some lunch before the show. I arrived at the theatre a little before 1:30. As I was walking up, I saw the actor who plays the soothsayer, Tony nominee Brad Oscar, go in the stage door. As I would soon learn, seeing his big number in the middle of Act I live is worth the price of admission alone. There is no way I could do it justice by trying to describe it. Just know it gets a standing ovation…in the middle of Act I…a long standing ovation. I took my place in the ticket holder line, and they let us in pretty soon after I got there. I walked to the top of the first staircase because my seat was front row center of the mezzanine. The usher at the top of the stairs looked at me and insisted that he’d seen me before, but I had to dash his hopes. He was really sweet though as he tried to figure out why I looked so familiar. I saw him again that night, too. I found my seat, and while I was looking down on the stage, I could still see all of it. I was also excited because, though it was July 1st, they were still handing out the Pride Month Playbills. Funny enough, the sweet older gentleman sitting next to me was from a town about 20 minutes from where I live. He had seen them on the Tony’s just as I had seen them on the Tonight Show and decided he had to see the show. His son got him tickets for Father’s Day. I swear I had ants in my pants waiting for the lights to go down, and once they did, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. I have been listening to the cast recording for the last month on iTunes, and this was like watching it come to life. I couldn’t get over how beautiful and vibrant everything was: the costumes, the sets, the actors. I had expected to be mesmerized by Shakespeare, so imagine my surprise when I couldn’t take my eyes off Michael James Scott, the minstrel and narrator of sorts. I also spent a good portion of this first performance trying to figure out how John Cariani (Nigel) did not get nominated for a Tony. He was brilliant. By the time we got to intermission, I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest, and once that first performance concluded, I was thanking my lucky stars that I had tickets to two more. I was right. Once was definitely not enough.
I tried my best to rush out of the theatre after the performance to make it to the stage door, but with the traffic from the mezzanine merging with the traffic from the balcony, that was easier said than done. I eventually made it downstairs and out the doors to the crowd. I had only given myself a certain amount of time because I had to get back to the hotel to change for the evening show and dinner with my friend, John, who was going to the show with me that night. I kept looking at my watch and saying to myself if they’re not out here by X time, I have to go, and of course the actors came out at that exact moment that I needed to leave, so I stayed just a bit longer. I wasn’t close enough to the front to ask for pictures with each cast member, but I was fine with that since I knew I’d be back. All of them were incredibly patient and kind and took their time with each person waiting. I had an opportunity to tell Brian d’Arcy James (Nick) happy belated birthday because his birthday had been the Monday before I went. I got my Playbill signed and got to hear the cutest exchange between Christian Borle and a little girl in front of me. She was wearing this adorable purple feather headband, and when he got to her and signed her Playbill, he stopped and sort of leaned down to her and told her that he loved her headband, that he had planned on wearing that same exact one that day, and that it would’ve been so embarrassing. My heart exploded at that very moment, and I was screaming in my head STOP IT…I do NOT need more reasons to adore you! I have come to learn that the little girl was the daughter of someone I correspond with on social media. Such a small world! I could only manage a “hi” and “thank you” to Christian at that moment because I was so stunned he was actually standing in front of me. He kind of looked at me after he handed back my Playbill and I had said “thank you” as if he could tell I had more to say, but I just couldn’t form words. I COULD.NOT.FORM.WORDS, people. I’ve been forming words for nearly 36 years of my life. I have never been known to be speechless. Well, Christian Borle is my kryptonite…or at least he was at that moment. I managed to sort of pull it together by that night with a little help from a friend.
I made it back to the hotel in time to change and try to do something with my face and hair before John arrived to go to dinner. NYC humidity is no joke. John and I went to high school together and spent many a day together in our high school drama club. It had been way too long since we’d seen each other or found ourselves in a theatre together. It was great to catch up with him and get to share this Broadway show with him. We stood in the ticket holder line and got to see most of the actors come back from their dinner break. John Cariani stood just a few feet away from us talking to a friend until long after they opened the doors for us. Our seats were stage right orchestra level, so I was closer. This time I got to see Eric Sciotto, one of the understudies and dancers in the ensemble, who I had been communicating with on Twitter in the weeks leading up to my trip. He was swung out of the matinee performance to observe the other dancers in the production. So, naturally, I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he was on the stage because after getting to know him as much as one can in 140 characters at a time, I just couldn’t wait to see him perform. To say he is an incredible dancer and singer would be understating just how talented he is. I was sad I didn’t get to engage with him at the stage door, but he’s a daddy to two beautiful children he has to get home to, so he doesn’t have much time after shows. I was stunned when he told me he saw me in the audience during one of the shows. Just how much can an actor on stage see out there?! In any case, Eric is quite possibly one of the nicest humans on Broadway, and maybe next time I’ll get to meet him face to face. (Cause y’all know there will be a next time.) My friend John enjoyed the show, too, especially the dancing. They tap dance in almost every scene, which is both thrilling and exhausting to watch, but I love feeling tired after live theatre when the action on stage is so exhilarating.
We were right by the exit doors making it easy to get right out of the theatre and grab a great spot at the stage door. We were basically in the first spot they would stop when they came out, and with all the commotion around the stage door, I didn’t really have time to be nervous about actually getting to talk to them. All the fans standing there were incredibly nice and not pushy or impatient at all. John was kind enough to take pictures for me with each of the actors who came out. This time I told Brian d’Arcy James that he makes me cry during one of the songs he sings because it’s so beautiful and his performance is so heartwarming. Then Christian just casually walked out, and I may have had to hold onto the barricade. I handed him my Playbill, and though I still had so many things running through my head to say to him, the only thing that came out of my mouth was that I had seen the show earlier that day, came back tonight, and would be back the next night. He responded with a Matthew McConaughey inspired “alright, alright, alright.” And after graciously taking a picture with me he was gone to be sweet to the next fan.
Thursday I had all day to explore NYC before the evening show. I’ve done all the typical touristy things in the city, so I had to get creative. I walked down to the Flatiron district and Greenwich Village for breakfast at The City Bakery and a walk through the Strand Bookstore. I managed to find a tote bag at the bookstore that made several classic authors look like super heroes. The one in the middle was Shakespeare, and knowing that Christian Borle is a huge super hero and comic book fan, I thought it would be funny to take it that night and have him sign it. He has better hair than the Shakespeare on the tote bag. I would’ve gotten him one, too if it hadn’t been for this one interview I saw where he said not to buy nerds nerd gifts because if they want it, they have it. I made my way back to midtown via Rockefeller Center so I could get myself a Tonight Show t-shirt. I had lunch in Times Square and then headed back to the hotel just to rest after all that walking until my friend Tiki got off work to have an early dinner with me before the show.
After dinner, she walked about halfway with me to the theatre before catching her train home, and I walked on to the St. James. I was really early this time but it gave me the opportunity to sit on the steps out front and people watch. I got to see a few of the actors arrive for work. Then a funny thing happened. I looked up and saw someone who I thought looked like my social media friend Hannah, but she hadn’t mentioned she was seeing the show that night, so I didn’t think anything of it. Just as I thought that, I got a text from her saying she was seeing the show that night, so I texted back to her and asked if she was wearing what the girl I saw was wearing. She said yes, so I said, “look to your right. I’m on the steps.” And thus a social media friendship evolved in real life. Then, Gigi, another friend from social media met up with her to see the show and there were budding friendships all around. We stood in the ticketholder line and watched more actors arrive for work including their favorite and mine Christian Borle until they let us into the theatre. I had a second row center seat right behind the orchestra leader’s head, and let me tell you, every person at some point in their lives should get to see their favorite Broadway show from that vantage point. It is spectacular and amazing and heavenly and sort of an out of body experience.
But wait, before I get to the actual performance, the most amazing thing happened. I was sitting in my seat chatting with the lovely father and daughter next to me who were from Australia. They didn’t know much about the show but had heard good things, so they got last minute tickets. While I was talking to them, the father pointed over my shoulder, and I thought someone needed to get by to their seat. However, when I turned around, a very nice gentleman asked me if I was Leann. My heart stopped. I thought I’d done something wrong. He introduced himself as Brian, one of the theatre managers, and said that he had heard this was my third show in a row with them. I confirmed that and we proceeded to have a lovely conversation about my enthusiasm for the show and how much I’d enjoyed myself. He wanted to personally greet me and brought me the cast recording on CD, a magnet, and drink tickets on the house. I was stunned and kept trying to figure out if this was real life. After Brian departed, the father next to me asked if he heard right that this was my third time in a row, and I said yes. He asked why just the one show and not some others while I was there, and I explained that I knew I wanted to see the show more than once but rather than pay for multiple trips to NYC, I paid for one trip and multiple performances. Spoiler Alert: By intermission, he turned to me and said, “now I get it” because he was so enthralled with the show. He even believed that Christian Borle, who uses an English accent in the show, was really British. He was shocked when I explained he was, in fact, from Pittsburgh, but I have to say, if someone from Australia thinks you’re actually British when you’re not, that’s saying something about how convincing you are. *cough*TwoTimeTonyWinner*cough*
Then two lovely couples came and sat next to me on the other side who were also excited to see it for the first time. We chatted about the actors in the show and they asked who Christian had played in The Good Wife. It’s in his Playbill bio, and of course, I was able to answer that for them (See: arsenal of research above). Finally, the show started. It was nothing short of fantastic. My cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much. I allowed myself to actually mouth the words to the songs this time. I had been careful not to burst out and sing along with them during the other two shows though that was tough. It was the best performance of the three, and let me tell you, they were all magnificent, but this one was off the charts. The audience for this show was electrifying. The company fed off of us because we were treated to a performance that goes beyond my vocabulary to describe. Except this: in one of the scenes, Shakespeare is performing a concert in the park in his tight black leather pants (take a moment), and part of the routine includes him crowd surfing on the ensemble. During that, he winks at the people in the first few rows of the audience. I can’t be certain, but it felt like he winked right at me, or at least, that’s how I’m going to remember it the rest of my life; the night Christian Borle winked at me and I forget where and who I was for a minute. This also happens later in the show at which point my temperature rises and I forget everything that happens afterwards until he buttons his jacket, again.
It was so bittersweet to leave my seat that night knowing I wouldn’t be back, again, the next day. The greatest thing about this show is that the entire company is having the time of their lives and they’ve chosen to share it with all of us. It is two and a half hours of uproarious comedy, gentle sweetness, and an all around good time; a quintessential opportunity to forget your troubles, get happy, and chase all your cares away. Go see it. You won’t be sorry. It is worth way more than the most expensive seat in the house.
I met up with Hannah and Gigi at the stage door, and we waited one last time to see and speak to the cast. More of the cast members came out this time. I got to meet a couple of the ensemble members, Ryan VanDenBoom and Marisha Wallace. Marisha has an amazing voice and is hysterical in the show. Her Dreamgirls lyrics in one of the songs brings down the house. Gerry Vichi who plays the eventual producer of Nick and Nigel’s musical came out, and he was a delight. He’s been a part of Broadway for so long that someone actually thought he was already dead. Seriously, the cast read mean tweets and one of them was “I thought Gerry Vichi was dead,” so I say to him “look at you alive and well unlike those mean tweets.” He laughed and said, “you saw that did you.” I made a Broadway star laugh, y’all. In fact, I made two of them laugh. Heidi Blickenstaff who plays Nick’s wife in the show had fans screaming at her to help get them closer to Christian, and I said to her “can you be their right-hand man,” which references her big number in the show and she laughed. Christian was his ever so sweet self who took his time with my friends and with me. For as handsome and easy on the eyes as he is, his kind, funny, patient heart is what I adore most about him. He signed my tote bag and thought it was pretty cool. Brian d’Arcy James was amazed I’d seen the show three times in a row. And everyone was so lovely. I know I’m using that word a lot, but I can’t think of another more appropriate word to describe how gracious and patient they are at the stage door.
After they closed up the stage door, we knew that John Cariani was still inside, and he was the one cast member I hadn’t gotten to meet, so we just hung around outside the theatre until he appeared. While we were waiting Brian, the theatre manager from before, came out and he noticed me. He stopped and we had another wonderful conversation. He was the sweetest person I met in NYC. I had the opportunity to tell him what an incredible operation this whole production was from front of house to back of house. Everyone was so kind to me and accommodating. I told him that I used to do what he does in high school and that I’d forgotten just how much I loved it. Theatre management can be a tough job, but if you do it right, it’s the most rewarding job in theatre. Think about it. Every time a show is over, you get to stand there and overhear the patrons leaving the theatre talking to their friends and family about how great the show is, and whether they know it or not, the front of house was a part of that experience. You get to be proud of everyone involved because that person had such a great time. John Cariani eventually came out and was equally as appreciative of us waiting on him. He spoke to us for a good chunk of time and signed our Playbills and took pictures. He even remembered me standing in line the night before when he was coming back from dinner break. Seriously, lovely, lovely people, y’all. And, with that my three show joyous whirlwind at the St. James Theatre was over.
I want to take a moment at the end of this novel to talk about Jujamcyn Theaters. So, if you’ve made it this far, stick with me. This is important. We live in a very cynical and cruel world that is getting better but doesn’t have nearly as much kindness in it as it should or could. Kindness is one of the easiest things to give someone, and it’s free. So, when I find it in this world, I like to push it right out front on a pedestal, and that, my friends, is Jujamcyn Theaters. They own five of the best Broadway houses in NYC. They are currently responsible for The Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, Jersey Boys, A Gentleman’s Guide, and Something Rotten!. Their owner/president Jordan Roth is one of the most successful Broadway producers/businessmen ever. He’s also a huge fan of social media. In the days and weeks leading up to my trip, I would tweet back and forth with him about everything from my plans to the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling. For as powerful of a person as he is, he takes great care and time to communicate with his followers daily. I received emails from the St. James Theatre explaining everything I needed to know in advance of my attendance. They were standard emails, but they were written in a way that sounded like I was coming to visit an old friend. I tweeted this to Jordan and he responded that they read like that because I am coming to visit a friend. I received emails after each performance thanking me for coming and visiting their house. Truly, truly incredible kindness that they do not have to extend, but do anyway. And so it was, that I found myself tweeting him from my seat at every performance, which I’ve come to believe is how Brian found me that last night to personally greet me. Jujamcyn Theaters is everything you hope Broadway to be. They live and breathe customer service because they’re aware you can spend your money on any number of shows or entertainment while in NYC, and if you’re going to spend it with them at one of their shows, they want to treat you like royalty and give you an experience you’ll never forget. And that’s what they gave me…times three.
Welcome to America. Where nothing rhymes with America, but you can find pure joy at the St. James Theatre on W 44th Street in NYC. Thanks for reading, friends. Parting is such sweet sorrow.