Brian d'Arcy James has been a Broadway star for over a decade, but in his latest caper Something Rotten he has found a vehicle for every one of his more obvious talents – that voice, his song and dance skill, and his never-say-die heart.
Even his famously bushy eyebrows are put to good use in a fast paced farce that requires not so much the suspension of your disbelief so much as their wholesale abandonment. Set in Renaissance London, D'Arcy plays a struggling young playwright who can't get out from under William Shakespeare's shadow.
In desperation he visits the soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus (the name tips you off to the level of slapstick at work here) who tells him what he really needs to do is put on a musical. In 1595, Brothers Nick (d'Arcy James) and Nigel (John Cariani) can't catch a break until word gets out they're trying something new, something sure to succeed, a play with music and singing.
With a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and best selling author John O'Farrell, the show is both deeply silly and surprisingly sweet. Featuring a star turn by the delightfully shameless Tony winner Christian Borle as the self-regarding Bard himself, and with megawatt talents like Heidi Blickenstaff stealing every scene, the show is a satirical canter through the golden age of musicals that feels respectful and charming rather than contrived.
With its 10 Tony nominations it will be hard to score a ticket now, but it must be said that it's a fairly lightweight prospect for so many potential laurels. Onstage d'Arcy James never flags as the anxiety stricken playwright who desperately needs a hit, and his performance alone is worth the ticket price.
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (who gave us the The Book of Mormon and Aladdin) the show skewers some of the dancing styles of the biggest hits on Broadway over the last six decades and both choreographer and cast have a ball in the process.
Something Rotten is now playing at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street, for tickets visit telecharge.com.
Meanwhile, Tony winning director John Doyle and playwright Terrence McNally helm The Visit, the final musical ever written by the legendary award winning Broadway duo John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, etc.).
A short but unforgettable fable that has more to say about how we live -- and what it costs us -- than any other show now playing on Broadway, it cuts though you like an east wind.
The cast is led by Tony Award winner Chita Rivera as Claire Zachannassian, who has worked for almost a decade and a half to bring it to Broadway. Zachannassian had her start in life as a gypsy girl that the locals of her village wouldn't talk to, and now she has returned many decades later as the richest woman in the world in search of revenge on all those who once snubbed her.
In particular she wants revenge on Anton (played by Roger Rees) the old flame who spurned her for a better offer when she was still a girl. The memory of that original heartbreak hovers over every scene.
Rivera's reputation as a brilliant dancer was made as far back as 1957 when she danced in West Side Story, but her acting skill and her line delivery also remind you why she's still an enduring star. Onstage she moves with such deliberation, every step clearly means something. It's a master class that dazzles the audience.
The Visit has more to say about the hard lessons of the 20th century than any other on Broadway, explaining her commitment to see it staged. She means every word of it and the audience can tell. The production is nothing less than a personal triumph.
The Visit also reminds us of the power of fable to tell uncomfortable truths about human nature. Zachannassian promises to enrich every man, woman and child in her old village if they do what she requests, kill the man she once – and still – loves.
The story in McNally's hands is a dark and bracing version of the Faust myth, asking us how much of our humanity are we actually willing to give up in pursuit of riches and worldly comfort?
It's a question that haunted postwar Europe, when the play that inspired this tale was originally written, and it remains as potent now as the night it was first performed, making The Visit is the most provocative and memorable show currently playing on Broadway.