Something wickedly delightful in Something Rotten

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Shakespeare sings (sort of)! Rob McClure (center, arms wide) is Nick Bottom, co-inventor of the musical, in the touring production of the hit Broadway musical Something Rotten!, part of the SHN season at the Orpheum Theatre. Below: McClure as Nick and Adam Pascal as his arch rival, William Shakespeare. Photos by Jeremy Daniel

Thank you, Something Rotten!. I need that.

Sometimes you need light and froth and delectable show tunes to lift you out of the quagmire of our something-more-than-rotten times, and this musical, now at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the SHN season, is just the ticket.

But it’s not like current events are completely shut out. On the contrary. At Wednesday’s opening-night performance, a line about Nazis in The Sound of Music, which may have been slightly tweaked for the unfortunately Nazi-heavy news cycle this week, got such an audience response that it actually stopped the show.

But mostly, Something Rotten!, which ran for nearly two years on Broadway, is a whole lot of escapist fun, a crisp and funny contemporary example of why the classic musical comedy model works. Give ’em song and dance razzle dazzle, some hearty (and bawdy) jokes and tunes that don’t feel like the aural equivalent of gummy risotto and you’ll likely have a happy audience. And the San Francisco audience sure seemed happy.

Conceived by brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who wrote music and lyrics and co-wrote the book (with John O’Farrell), Something Rotten! is sort of a spin on Shakespeare in Love but more like Shakespeare in Rivalry (with jazz hands). It’s all about the invention of the musical as a means to surpass Shakespeare as the rock star playwright of Elizabethan times.

Brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom run a struggling theater London theater company. They are constantly in the shadow of Shakespeare, who used to be a bad actor in their company before Nick encouraged him to become a writer. They’re barely scraping by, and in desperation, older brother Nick spends his family’s last few coins to engage a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradmus (a distant relative of the more famous Nostradamus), to find out a) what the next big thing in theater is going to be and b) what Shakespeare’s greatest hit will be. The answers are, in order: musicals! and something about a sad prince eating a danish called Omelette.

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In the meantime, Nigel (the dreamy poet and the eventual, actual author of Shakespeare’s Hamlet) falls in love with Portia, a Puritan’s daughter, and Bea, Nick’s enterprising and equality minded wife, dons men’s drag to find gainful employment (and prove her point that women are the equal of men).

Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin) knows his way around bright and fizzy musicals, and he keeps Something Rotten! clipping right along, even when the heavy heart on its sleeve weighs things down a bit. The best moments are its lightest and brightest, with the absolute most memorable show-stopping moment coming with the Act 1 number, “A Musical,” when Nostradamus (Blake Hammond) reaches into the future to explain to Nick (Rob McClure) the whole concept of a musical. He borrows liberally from classic shows (The Music Man, South Pacific) and more contemporary shows (Rent, A Chorus Line) to illustrate his point, along with a tap-dancing, high-kicking chorus. The number builds to a frenzy of delight, and though the show peaks here, we are carried through to the end on such a wave of grinning good will that it hardly matters.

McClure’s central performance as Nick is as solid a musical comedy turn as you could hope for, and he’s nicely supported and contrasted by Josh Grisetti as the moony poet Nigel and by his real-life wife, Maggie Lakis playing his on-stage wife. For the role of Shakespeare, you need someone who can lend some rock-star edge to the role because that’s how he’s played here – he even performs a stadium-like greatest hits concert for his swooning fans – and Adam Pascal of Rent fame fits the bill. It also helps that he can be pretty funny while he’s parading around like the cock of the Tudor walk in the mighty pleasing costumes by Gregg Barnes (the codpieces alone are hilarious).

The character/actor who drew the most audible laughter from me was Scott Cote as the Puritan, Brother Jeremiah, who is fond of expressing his disdain for the corrupt world and its godless inhabitants by shrugging, shading, and flouncing like he was a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The general irreverence dial could be turned up a few notches for the show, but its sweetness is nicely cut by the numbers that Nick and Nigel are writing for the “new” musical theater form they are developing: “Black Death” (dancing Grim Reapers!), “It’s Eggs” (a scrambled notion) and “Make an Omelette” (more, more, more inside Broadway musical references).

Something Rotten! is definitely something delightful in the state of musical comedy. It’s also a show that basically reviews itself in its centerpiece song: “A big and shine-y, mighty fine-y, glitter-glitz-and-chorus-line-y, bob your head and shake your hiney musical.”

[bonus video]
Watch the Broadway company perform an abbreviated version of the standout number from Something Rotten, “A Musical.”

Something Rotten continues through Sept. 10 as part of the SHN season at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$214. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

`Rent’ is, apparently, still due

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Anthony Rapp (left) is Mark, Lexi Lawson (center) is Mimi and Adam Pascal is Roger in the latest national touring company of the rock musical Rent, coming to San Francisco’s Curran Theatre in October. Photo by Joan Marcus

You’re never too old to play a Bohemian 20something who can’t pay the rent.

At least that’s the theory behind the latest tour of Rent, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical once again criss-crossing the country under the rubric Rent: The Broadway Tour. Original cast members Adam Pascal (Roger), Anthony Rapp (Mark) and Gwen Stewart (that amazing voice in the song “Seasons of Love”) are starring the show that made them stars when the acclaimed rock musical made its Broadway debut in 1996.

According to Wikipedia, Pascal is 38, Rapp is 37 and Stewart is 45.

Rent runs Oct. 6 through 18 at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Tickets go on sale May 29. The show is presented as a special attraction of the 2008-2009 Citibank Best of Broadway series season under the direction of Carole Shorenstein Hays.

Also in the cast are Nicolette Hart (Maureen Johnson), Justin Johnston (Angel Schunard), Lexi Lawson (Mimi Marquez), Michael McElroy (Tom Collins), Jacques C. Smith (Benjamin Coffin III) and Haneefah Wood (Joanne Jefferson). The ensemble is rounded out by Karmine Alers, Toby Blackwell, Adam Halpin, Trisha Jeffrey, Joshua Kobak, Telly Leung, Jed Resnick, Andy Señor, Caren Tackett, Yuka Takara and John Watson.

Pascal, Rapp and Stewart originated the roles of Roger Davis, Mark Cohen and “Seasons of Love” soloist, respectively, at the New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway. Justin Johnston, Michael McElroy, Telly Leung and Stewart were all members of the final company of Rent, which played its last performance on Broadway on Sept. 7, 2008.

San Francisco’s relationship with Rent began in March 1999 when the musical opened and played an extended six-month engagement at the Golden Gate Theatre through September 1999. The show returned to San Francisco for engagements in 2001, 2002 and 2006. When it came time to make the movie in 2005, San Francisco-based director Chris Columbus chose to shoot most of it here on soundstages at Treasure Island and in the SOMA district neighborhood.


Rent: The Broadway Tour tickets range from $30 to $99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit The Curran Theatre is at Geary St., San Francisco.

Here’s rehearsal footage of Rapp and Pascal rehearsing “What You Own.”

Helping Broadway musicals go (sh-k-) Boom!

Kurt Deutsch didn’t mean to get into the record business.

The self-described “total theater guy” grew up in St. Louis going to theater whenever possible (usually at The Muny) and then studied directing and acting in college. His big break came when Evan Handler had to leave the Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound for health reasons (he was diagnosed with leukemia, survived, wrote a fantastic book about it, Time on Fire, and went on to star in, among other things, Sex and the City, so there’s a happy ending here).

Deutsch replaced Handler and did the show for a year and half, and then went on to Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men.

After he moved to Los Angeles, Deutsch met the woman who would become his wife, actress Sherie Rene Scott, while working on Randy Newman’s musical Faust. The show didn’t go anywhere, but the relationship did.

When Scott was getting ready to do Disney’s Aida on Broadway, she was offered a record contract – every performer’s dream, right? – and Deutsch looked it over.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” he says during a phone interview. “I thought we should just do it ourselves, and one thing led to another. I had no intention of doing cast albums or any of the stuff we ended up doing. I was just going to do a record with my wife.”

That was eight years ago, and Sh-K-Boom records, co-founded by Scott (the Sh) and Deutsch (the K), has become a major force in the realm of Broadway music. Originally the label started as an outlet for Broadway performers to show their musical colors outside of cast albums. Scott, along with the likes of Adam Pascal of Rent and Alice Ripley of Side Show, released pop-rock, singer-songwriter albums.

Then original cast albums began to creep into the picture as Deutsch began to learn more about the music industry, recording contracts and business models.

“The usual recording contracts are awful,” Deutsch says. “The record company pays for the record, but then the artist never makes any money off the record. The same kind of contract is given to shows. The royalty deal is horrible because you have to sell so many records to see any money off of it. I thought it was so unfair. I couldn’t believe producers would sign these things. I realized cast albums could be an asset and make money, theoretically. Producers spend all this money creating the shows, why wouldn’t they want to create their own cast album? So we created a different model for producers to share in the revenue from cast albums in an equitable way.”

The music industry is an industry in turmoil. Technology has wreaked havoc with traditional means of recording and distribution – thank you, iTunes. Deutsch has had to be creative and to develop a mission.

“When I go see the shows, there are two aspects I’m considering: preservation and money making,” Deutsch explains. “I know certain shows will probably never make back their investments. I’m very honest with the producer or the not-for-profit that is producing it. We then find angels to support the cast album, which is probably the most important tool if the show is going to have a life beyond this production. If a recording exists, productions will happen.”

Deutsch, of course, is not running a not-for-profit organization. He has to make money to stay in business. But he has gotten good at helping shows find money, whether he taps a moneyed believer in the show, the music publisher or other sponsors.

For releasing cast albums, Deutsch created a separate label called Ghostlight Records (named for the single bulb lamp left on stages after a performance), and among the cast albums he has released are this year’s Tony-winner for best musical, In the Heights, Legally Blonde, The Drowsy Chaperone, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and another recent Tony-winner, Passing Strange, which was recorded live and has the distinction of being the first original Broadway cast recording released in a digital format before it was released to brick-and-mortar stores.

“There will always be something physical people will buy, especially collectors of recordings,” Deutsch says. “Some people will always want to read the lyrics, see photos to get a sense of the show or just have a souvenir of the show, a tangible thing.”

But there’s no denying the fact that the digital revolution has made things easier for distributors: there’s no manufacturing cost, no shipping and customers around the world can acquire the product with the click of a mouse.

With this summer’s airing of MTV’s reality show search for a new lead in Legally Blonde, Deutsch says that Blonde music sales, already one of the label’s strong sellers, increased, with about 50 percent of sales going out digitally.

There was one potentially major gaffe associated with the conclusion of the MTV show, which revealed the winner and new Blonde star to be Bailey Hanks. Deutsch and his crew had already recorded Hanks singing the show’s “So Much Better,” which was scheduled for release the day after she was crowned the winner. But someone at didn’t get the memo and posted a 30-second clip of Hanks’ song days before they were supposed to. There was no name on the clip, but anyone watching the show would recognize Hanks as the singer.

“I was on vacation in Italy and got this frantic e-mail from the executive producer of the Legally Blonde show,” Deutsch recalls. “We had had to sign a confidentiality agreement with the show, and a mistake like that one could have cost us $500,000. They eventually took the clip down. Hopefully someone was fired.”

Part of Deutsch’s creative mission with these recordings is to make original cast albums vital again. He gave away a copy of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels disc with every ticket sold during the show’s Broadway run. For “In the Heights” he created radio-friendly three-minute versions of some of the show’s songs. And Passing Strange went digital in time for its award-season appearances.

He also takes risks, like he did with the musical bare (which will have its San Francisco premiere next year). The small-scale musical about teens in Catholic school, was generating buzz off-Broadway. After meeting with producers, Deutsch recorded a 12-track disc that was essentially given away, mostly to youth groups and summer camps.

“We spent $50,000 to make the record and market it,” Deutsch says. “The idea was to create buzz to get the show to Broadway. Then the money fell apart, and it never opened on Broadway.”

Upcoming releases for Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight include an archival recording of Patti LuPone’s legendary concerts at Les Mouches (Nov. 11), Michael John LaChiusa’s
Little Fish (Sept. 9) and Orfeh’s What Do You Want from Me (Sept. 30). Recent releases include Kelli O’Hara’s Wonder in the World, the cast album for the first Broadway musical of the season, [title of show],
and Lea Delaria’s The Live Smoke Sessions.

“The whole point of this is that we’re part of the community,” Deutsch says. “Sheri is part of the Broadway community. We have a lot of friends in the Broadway community. We’re performers and producers on Broadway, not some big, bad record label guys. We want to help grow Broadway and off-Broadway. This is a great time in history with a lot of great people, and we can help make something to remember them by.”

For information visit or

Let the sun shine

With all this talk about the Summer of Love – it was 40 years ago, in case you hadn’t noticed – I’ve been thinking about the musical Hair, which, not so coincidentally, is also celebrating its 40th birthday this year (as am I, but why dwell on such a depressing statistic).

“The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” as it was known, is a distinct product of its time. The score by James Rado (book/lyrics), Gerome Ragni (book/lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music) feels more authentically show tune than it does rock, which is probably why I enjoy it so much, but it sure doesn’t sound like other shows of its era: Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time, Bacharach and David’s Promises, Promises (which includes my favorite overture of all time) and Sherman Edwards’ 1776.

There’s something a little quaint about Hair now, especially its Act 1 finale, which takes place in dim light as most of the cast disrobes. Naked hippies, it turns out, are cute. Not rebellious, not edgy, not counter-culture. Cute.

Bay Area audiences can see a cleaned-up, no-nudity Hair (pictured below) on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County as the Mountain Play, the official harbinger of the summer theater season in these parts, “mounts” the musical. For information, visit

If you’re in New York in late summer, the Public Theater, the original producer of the musical in its 1967 off-Broadway run, is putting on a concert version in Central Park in mid- to late September. Visit for information.

And if you want to reacquaint yourself with the score, I highly recommend the Actors Fund of America benefit recording featuring an all-star cast including Charles Busch, Raul Esparza, Lea DeLaria, Harvey Fierstein, Lillias White, Billy Porter, Sheri Rene Scott, Adam Pascal, Ledisi, Ana Gasteyer and Jennifer Hudson. The album is available on iTunes or at Sh-k-Boom Records.

So why no 40th anniversary Broadway production? There have been attempts in recent years to revive Hair on Broadway, but the surviving creators (Ragni died in 1991) can’t seem to agree on what the production should be — what, if any, of the seemingly constant revisions over the years should be incorporated, etc. It seems if there ever were a time for a Hair revival, what with the 40th anniversary of the musical and the Summer of Love and the fact that we’re a country at war, this would be it. Missed opportunity.

Adam Pascal: More than one song, glory

Here’s a sneak peek at my interview with Adam Pascal, who’s performing Oct. 27 and 28 at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco (more info below).

Like any good blog item, there are bonus features that won’t make it into the newspaper.

Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel were friends in high school on Long Island. Well, not friends exactly, more like friendly. She was dating one of his good friends, and she was a year younger.

So what were the stars of Rent like in high school?

“In all honesty, I was cool and she was a nerd,” Pascal says on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “But she was a year younger. You know how that is in high school. She might as well have been 10 years younger.”

During those tender teenage years, Pascal was a heavy metal fan (“Judas Priest, that was my band!”) and had his very own band, which went through many names, including Wine and Vision. The band’s final name was Mute.

“I was outvoted three to one on that name,” Pascal says. And what was his choice? “Anything but Mute.”

Pascal’s rock ‘n’ roll career didn’t quite took off, but thanks to his “nerdy” friend Menzel, he got his big break.

She had already been cast in a raucous little off-Broadway musical about drag queens, artists and people with AIDS. It was called Rent, and her boyfriend at the time, mentioned to Pascal that the creative team was having trouble casting a rocker-type in the role of Roger.

If you saw Rent on Broadway or caught last year’s movie version, you know Pascal got the part and soared to fame largely on the power of his electrifying ballad, “One Song, Glory.”

Though Broadway fame beckoned _ Pascal would go on to play the Emcee in Cabaret during its long run and originate the role of Radames in Disney’s Aida _ Pascal still yearned for rock stardom.

“When Rent exploded, I thought for sure this was my springboard to a major label record deal,” he says. “But it didn’t happen for a lot of reasons. Frankly, I don’t think I had the chops to do it back then. I didn’t really know who I was as a singer or a songwriter.”
He has a better idea now.

On Wednesday (Oct. 25), Pascal turned 36, and tonight (Oct. 27) he plays the first of two solo concert gigs at San Francisco’s Post Street Theatre. He’s on a concert tour that is taking him to college campuses, theaters and the odd YMCA.

The concert is just him on bass and guitar and a pianist. His repertoire comes from his two solo albums, “Model Prisoner” and “Civilian” (both on the Sh-K-Boom label), and from Broadway shows.

Of course he sings “One Song, Glory,” but he has re-imagined it as what he describes as a “haunting piano ballad with a different time signature.” He also throws in “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line, “Maria” from West Side Story and “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret.

“I wanted to experiment with taking Broadway tunes and drastically re-arranging them without changing their intent,” Pascal says. “A lot of times, taken out of context, musical theater material doesn’t work. I wanted to make the songs more palatable.”

Assuming the movie of Rent would be a big hit and offers would pour in, Pascal and his wife, Cybele, and their two sons, Lennon Jay, 5, and Montgomery Lovell, 3, moved to Los Angeles.

The offers didn’t pour in.

“If I didn’t have music in my life…” Pascal says, then pauses for thought. “If I was out here just trying to be an actor, I’d kill myself. It’s brutal. I feel like every audition I go to I’m at an International Male catalog call with all these super-buffed-up, super-handsome male model-looking guys. You want to be taken seriously as an actor and be judged on your talent, but that’s not what it’s about.”

But Pascal does have his music _ and his family _ and he’s doing all right.

Reflecting on his birthday, Pascal says: “I’m much, sort of, smarter and more adept at what I do than I was 10 years ago. Music is a young person’s business, but it didn’t happen for me as a young person. It’s happening to me now. It took whatever my life experiences have been for the last 10 years to acquire the skills I need to do this well. I feel I have more of those skills to be a better musician, lyricist, player, whatever. I’m finally coming into my own.”

If you’re interested in knowing what Pascal is listening to these days (mostly at the gym): he just downloaded the Scissor Sisters’ latest, “Ta Da,” OK Go’s latest and a group called She Wants Revenge.

For Pascal neophytes, if you’d like to sample him at his best, of course download “One Song, Glory” from Rent. Pascal himself recommends the following three tracks from his solo work: “I’m with You” and “The Ringing in My Ear” from “Civilian” and “Undiscovered” from “Model Prisoner.”

I’d like to add Pascal’s excellent recording of “I Got Life” from the benefit recording of Hair on the Sh-K-Boom label.

Adam Pascal’s concerts are at 8 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35 to $85. Call (415) 771-6900 or visit for information.