by Jack Getz
This Season, FST is proud to kick off its Winter Mainstage Series with a play that The New York Post called “Broadway’s new big, fat hit.” Shakespeare is coming to Florida Studio Theatre. Strictly speaking — the knock-off Shakespearean play featured in Something Rotten!, dreamed up by two dirty rotten scoundrels competing with The Bard. To explain their funny business, let’s turn back the clock. (Or turn the hourglass, as the case may be.)
Elizabethan London was a time of hothouse creativity. Playwrights like Shakespeare and Marlowe burned with theatrical genius. We remember those superstar scribes, and forget the multitude of hacks, drudges, talented failures, and sell-outs. Case in point: the two brother playwrights at the heart of Something Rotten! — Nick and Nigel Bottom.
The Bottoms are struggling playwrights — and Shakespeare is the reason they struggle. He’s a tough act to follow, and these ink-stained wretches just can’t compete. The brothers know they can’t beat the Bard with their own words. If they steal Shakespeare’s words, they might wind up in a duel. Ah … but what if there’s a way to steal his ideas?
They cook up a hairbrained scheme, and comedy ensues.
“In Something Rotten!, Shakespeare is like a rock star,” says Karey Kirkpatrick, who co-wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the the Broadway hit musical comedy. “We always talked about him as being a cross between Mick Jagger, James Brown, Tom Jones, and a little bit of Austin Powers. We wanted him to be the Shakespeare you’ve never seen before.”
The Shakespeare of Something Rotten! may be full of himself, but he’s still a genius. So how do the Bottom brothers plan to outdo him? Do they have a mind-reader?
No. But they’ve got someone better: a fortuneteller.
Using the soothsayer’s powers of premonition, the Bottoms rip off ideas The Bard hasn’t even had yet — and snag the plot for Shakespeare’s next big hit. That seems to work! Next, they ask their seer to look further into the future. He peers centuries ahead — and predicts that the future of the theater will be musicals. The brothers add song and dance to vague glimpses they have of Shakespeare’s stolen story. And set out to write the world’s very first musical.
Is that a foolproof plan or what? What could possibly go wrong?
Competency problems, for one. If you want good results, you need to hire the right people. But their prophet for hire turns out to be a second-rate seer.
Nostradamus is his name. But he’s not the original Nostradamus.
According to Wayne Kirkpatrick, who co-wrote the music and lyrics alongside Karey, they’d originally considered using the first-edition Nostradamus as a character. Not to be. Turns out, that ambiguous oracle had died 80 years before the time of the play. Ah … But what if he’d had a nephew?
Wayne adds that their knock-off Nostradamus is also living in the shadow of greatness. He’s not as a good as his uncle. But he thinks he is.
“The character’s a bit eccentric, a bit senile,” adds Karey.
This thought cracks both creators up. A wide-eyed, raving prophet without a clue? That’s more comedy gold.
“We talked about Christopher Lloyd’s character in Back to the Future,” adds Wayne. “And maybe Billy Crystal in Princess Bride.”
Even if you’re not clairvoyant, you can see where this is going, and why the musical comedy has been called “Hilarious” by Huffington Post and “Deliriously Funny” by Variety.
And according to Director Ellie Mooney, you don’t have to be an English major to get the joke.
“You don’t need to have much, if any, knowledge of Shakespeare or theatre to enjoy this show,” she says. “That’s one of the brilliant things about Something Rotten! The writers have made Shakespeare more accessible and relatable. He’s a celebrity with a huge ego who loves the fame that comes with his success more than he likes playwriting itself.”
The creators behind Something Rotten! clearly love the art of playwriting themselves, and this Season, FST audiences get to enjoy the musical comedy that earned them ten Tony Award nominations, incuding one for “Best Musical.”
Something Rotten! is now playing in FST’s Gompertz Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.