Playwright brothers battle Shakespeare in ‘Something Rotten!’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Something Rotten' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 1)

It earned 10 Tony nods on Broadway in 2015 as one of the funniest shows ever staged.

If you somehow missed it, there’s a great chance to see a version here locally as Toby’s Dinner Theatre stages “Something Rotten!” in Columbia, Maryland through March 19.

“The show is a blast, it is funny, it is heartfelt with tons of dancing, tons of spectacle, so if you’re into musical theater and Shakespeare or if you’re not, you’re gonna have an awesome time,” Actor Ben Ribler told WTOP. “This show makes fun of Shakespeare as much as it compliments him. … The second song is, ‘God, I Hate Shakespeare!'”

Just as Salieri saw his creative thunder stolen by piano prodigy Mozart in the movie “Amadeus” (1984), “Something Rotten!” similarly follows a pair of playwright brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom (Jeffrey Shankle and Ben Ribler), who struggle to compete with their rockstar peer Will Shakespeare, a cocky genius smothering the competition in 1595.

“They’re both trying to write in the age of Shakespeare — and how are you going to beat Shakespeare, right?” Ribler said. “Shakespeare is this big (David) Bowie type, a Mick Jagger rock star, he’s got all these fans, so of course there’s that pressure. … Justin Calhoun, another Toby’s regular, looks like he’s having the time of his life in that role.”

When Nostradamus’ nephew predicts that the “next big thing” will be a combo of singing, dancing and acting, the brothers set out to write the world’s very first musical. Thus, the Act 1 number “A Musical” hilariously offers mistaken visions of theater’s future.

“The soothsayer isn’t very good and gives them a lot of wrong information, so that’s where a lot of the show’s humor comes in,” Ribler said. “That’s the big number where we see him throw all these references to all of these different musicals we know and love. … If you know musicals, you’re going to love this show, all of the little references, it’s very funny.”

Fittingly, the show is written by two real-life brothers: Karey Kirkpatrick (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”), who co-writes the stage book with bestselling author John O’Farrell, and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who won a Grammy penning Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.”

While the songbook features brilliant musical numbers like “Welcome to the Renaissance,” the lavish period visuals will transport you all the way back to Shakespeare’s era.

“The time of the show is the Renaissance, so there’s a lot of Tudor-style wall coverings and that sort of thing,” Ribler said. “We also have the original Broadway costumes in this production. We’ve been able to get those, so that’s really cool quite literally stepping into Josh Grisetti or John Cariani’s shoes, who played Nigel professionally in the past.”

As always, Toby’s Dinner Theatre will provide a themed buffet for audiences during intermission, and if you know anything about the show, get ready to crack up with eggs.

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Something Rotten' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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