WASHINGTON — If you’re going to make an omelette, you’ve got to break a few legs.
After earning 10 Tony nominations on Broadway in 2015, “Something Rotten!” brings its national tour to National Theatre (Feb. 6-18) in one of the most clever shows you’ll ever see, deconstructing the entire history of theater, while simultaneously paying homage.
“If you like musicals and Shakespeare, you’re gonna love our show, but if you hate musicals and Shakespeare, so does my character!” actor Rob McClure joked. “I get a song called ‘God I Hate Shakespeare’ when I win over audiences who aren’t into musicals or Shakespeare. … The show pays loving tribute to those things, but it also lovingly pokes fun as well. Nobody’s safe.”
The premise recalls the movie “Amadeus” (1984), where talented composer Salieri saw his creative thunder routinely stolen by his contemporary prodigy Mozart. This time, Will “Power” Shakespeare is the cocky genius smothering the competition: “Don’t be a penis; he’s a genius.”
Set in 1595, the story follows the Bottom brothers, Nick (McClure) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti), a pair of playwrights who struggle to compete with rockstar peer Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). But when Nostradamus’ nephew (Blake Hammond) predicts the “next big thing” will be a combo of singing, dancing and acting, the brothers set out to write the world’s first musical.
“It takes place during the Renaissance, but it’s certainly tongue-in-cheek; there’s no ‘thee’ or ‘thou’ or goofy language,” McClure said. “It has a very contemporary sense of humor by director Casey Nicholaw, who just did ‘Mean Girls’ at the National and ‘Book of Mormon’ and ‘Aladdin,’ so somebody who really knows funny. The audience can certainly expect to laugh.”
Not only does Nicholaw direct, he also choreographs some wild numbers with lavish visuals, particularly Pascal’s portrayal of Shakespeare. The original Roger from “Rent” is perfectly at home, turning The Bard into a glam-rock god in the vein of Freddie Mercury or David Bowie.
“He looks unbelievable in these costumes, wearing these crazy, shiny, metallic, rock-god outfits,” McClure said. “The costumes are inspired by the Renaissance, so gigantic dresses and corsets and foofy [sic] collars, but also juxtaposed to a really contemporary sense of humor. So it’s people rocking out with this incredible choreography. There’s tons of tapdancing in these gigantic period costumes. It’s certainly a workout for us, but the audience loves it.”
While the show is about a pair of playwright brothers, it’s fittingly written by two real-life brothers: Wayne Kirkpatrick, who won a Grammy for penning Eric Clapton’s song “Change the World,” and Karey Kirkpatrick, who wrote the screenplay for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The latter brother also co-writes the book with bestselling author John O’Farrell.
“They’re geniuses,” McClure said. “There are two production numbers — one in Act 1 and one in Act 2 — that get standing ovations in the middle of the show,” McClure said. “The number in Act 1 is ‘A Musical,’ when the fortune teller is seeing visions of the future of theater. … ‘I swear to you, a huge hit is going to be singing cats!’ Nick doesn’t think that sounds possible!”
The number is a showcase for the hilariously spastic Hammond, who blurts out sudden visions of the future that almost always miss the mark. Equally comical are Autumn Hulbert and Josh Grisetti reciting an innuendo poem between two forbidden lovers, a romance that irks her puritan father Lord Clapham, played with suppressed snappiness by Jeff Brooks.
Still, the unsung hero might be Maggie Lakis, who changes constantly as Nick’s wife Bea.
“She can tell that he’s struggling, because she knows him, but he’s not communicating with her,” Lakis said. “So, she has to go behind his back in ways that she can help him, but being a woman in that time period is a little difficult, so she has to wear all sorts of disguises and be sneaky about it. It’s so fun because I get to play a character who plays different characters.”
It doesn’t hurt that Lakis and McClure are married in real life.
“We know each other better than any other person on the planet, so we already have that history and that chemistry to play a married couple,” Lakis said. “There’s no awkwardness during rehearsal. … We have a great time. It’s actually a gift. We love working together.”
The actors initially met during a regional production of “Grease” in New Jersey.
“He played Doody and I played Frenchy,” Lakis recalls fondly. “We met doing that and became very good friends at first. Then we started dating and just moved on from there.”
Both came to National Theatre a decade ago to perform in “Avenue Q” before residing in Philadelphia. Wouldn’t you know it? They just finished touring in Tom Brady’s New England.
“We’re Eagles fans in New England during the Super Bowl,” Lakis said. “Keep the party rolling!”
That’s exactly what happened during opening night at National Theatre. As the “egg-cellent” finale arrived to a standing ovation, it was clear that this show is all it’s cracked up to be, scrambling the very idea of a rotten show getting panned. Why walk on egg shells worried about what others think when you can embrace sage advice: “To Thine Own Self Be True?”
Scramble to the National — “Something Rotten!” is the funniest thing you’ll see this year.
Click here for more details. Listen to our full chat with Rob McClure and Maggie Lakis below: