Probably the funniest guilty pleasure currently on Broadway is this spoof built around the prolific nature of William Shakespeare. The musical blends elements of The Producers and Spamalot with seemingly infinite references of other Broadway musicals. The self referential nature of the plot, crystallized in the huge song and dance number “A Musical” lets the audience guffaw as they recognize each sly quote from all the other musicals that have graced the boards within a few blocks.
The show-within-a-show structure has proven effective in myriad other productions and here it is a clever plot device.
The razor thin plot has to do with a writer who is constantly in the shadow of The Bard. “Why is he The Bard? We are all bards. Why can’t he just be a bard?” moans Nick Bottom (played boldly by Rob McClure). His nemesis channels Tim Curry wonderfully, such that Christian Borle’s Shakespeare appropriately steals the spotlight whenever he is onstage.
The opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” literally sets the stage for the tomfoolery to follow. All the characters acknowledge how difficult it is to write (and understand) iambic pentameter, one of the myriad humorous self-referential tools sprinkled throughout the play. As the era’s superstar, Shakespeare overshadows the efforts of the Bottom brothers to mount a successful production. With the debt collector knocking, the Bottoms have their backs against the back wall of the stage. Bottom hires a soothsayer to look into the future to see what will be Shakespeare’s next success in order to co-opt the concept. The vision is a bit foggy, in that a musical called Omlette goes into production. Of course, Shakespeare gets wind of what Nigel Bottom has written instead, calling into question the ageless question about who wrote The Bard’s work.
The book, music and lyrics emanated from the creative minds of Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Casey Nicholaw is responsible for the fine direction and robust choreography.
One initially tries not to laugh at the painfully obvious quips, but soon reserve is melted and even the most curmudgeonly in the audience are grinning at the rollicking dialogue, song and dance unfolding.