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'Something Rotten!' is fresh, original and just plain fun

Get ready for this: Some people don’t like musicals.

I’ll give you a minute to collect yourself.

It’s true, and their arguments are valid. The random singing, the overextended gestures, the dramatic overtones. Musicals are a little absurd, fine.

Take them to “Something Rotten!”, now at Shea’s through Sunday evening, and they might get it. And laugh their heads off.

The show, which played a respectable run on Broadway a couple of years ago, imagines the invention of the musical form.

Picture it: Elizabethan South London, 1595. Enter: William Shakespeare. He’s a bonafide rock star, the Elvis of his day. His fans clamor for his next hit. And two of his former theater pals, brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, are envious. They need their own masterpiece to pay the bills. After a visit to a soothsayer, who offers hackneyed clairvoyance in a seedy alley, they determine the theater’s next big innovation is a thing called a musical. Throw in some tap-dancing showgirls, your classic bearded-disguise decoy, and hilarity ensues.

This is obviously ridiculous. It’s flashy, bawdy and frivolous, and it won’t make you think too hard. It doesn’t carry a timely message. It’s simply fun. Just go with it.

Autumn Hurlbert and Josh Grisetti perform in "Something Rotten."

Laugh heartily at the bodacious humor, a respectful homage to the sardonic Monty Python and silly Mel Brooks. Name check the dozens of modern theater references laced throughout Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick’s bouncy score, brought to extraordinary heights in the biggest showstopper, “A Musical.” Guffaw—yes, guffaw—at Karey and John O’Farrell’s stupidly funny dialogue, and this cast’s willingness to take it even one step further.

The book could stand some spring cleaning, and only a couple of songs truly sing. We don’t need all of these supporting plotlines; and do away the tacked-on blurbs at the end of each song. There’s something consistently off in the show’s rhythm and rhyme.

But the most affirming about this strangely great show is the originality of its story, the freshness of a new idea, even one based on old tricks. Beyond the many casual references to popular musicals, you might catch strong whiffs of Brooks’s “The Producers,” another outlandish spectacular about two bozos putting on a doomed musical. It feels like homage, not theft. And yet, it’s new and welcoming, too. We don’t get too many original musicals anymore. This one is for the masses, and promises a soft landing for both cynics and newcomers.

Adam Pascal (center) is part of the strong cast of "Something Rotten," a colorful and original musical.

The tour’s cast is on point. Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti are endearing as Nick and Nigel Bottom, respectively, whose opposing philosophies about art and commerce create smart tension for them to milk. McClure, who got raves for heading the short-run “Chaplin” musical, is a tireless leader. Grisetti is his sweet and introverted counterpart, striving for authenticity and self-respect. They’ve got a wonderful thing here.

Blake Hammond is a riot as Thomas Nostradamus, the soothsayer in the alley. I may have blurted out a few unexpected cackles at his brash pronouncements. He’s one to watch even when he’s in the background. Joel Newsome is delicious as the closeted puritan Lord Clatham.

And Adam Pascal—a Broadway star; the original Roger in “Rent”—is wonderful in the strangely written yet let’s-run-with-it role of William Shakespeare. Pascal’s rascally voice is as hardcore as ever, his flair for the outrageous if in full regalia. It's an odd introduction to arguably history's greatest playwright, but in the innovative—and centuries later, still imaginative—world of theater theater, anything goes. Get thee to the theater.

THEATER REVIEW

"Something Rotten"

★ ★ ★ ½ (out of 4 stars)

Runs through March 11 in Shea's Performing Arts Center (646 Main St.). Shows are at 7:30 p.m. March 8, 8 p.m. March 9, 2 and 8 p.m. March 10 and 2 and 7 p.m. March 11. Tickets are $32 to $87 (sheas.org, 800-745-3000)

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