Something old, something new, something borrowed and 'Something Rotten!'



Cast of the national touring production of ‘Something Rotten,’ opening tonight (Oct. 17) at the Buell Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Daniel. 

Something Rotten! is a cheeky new musical with its tongue planted firmly in the cheek of Broadway’s past  

Most Broadway newcomers don’t get their first show produced by Tony Award-winner Kevin McCollum, and they don’t typically land Tony-winner Casey Nicholaw as their director-choreographer. But brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and British comedy writer John O’Farrell, the creators of the Tony Award-nominated Something Rotten!, aren’t like most Broadway first-timers.

Growing up in Louisiana, the Kirkpatrick brothers fell in love with musical theater, appearing in high school shows and going to what’s now the Baton Rouge River Center to see touring productions of Broadway hits. In 1983, Karey Kirkpatrick saw his first show on Broadway, My One and Only, starring Tommy Tune and Twiggy, at the St. James Theatre – the theater that’s now home to Something Rotten!.

Careers took the brothers and their Something Rotten! collaborator O’Farrell in different creative directions – Karey to success as a screenwriter, songwriter and director, with credits including The Rescuers Down Under, James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run; Wayne to acclaim as a Grammy Award-winning songwriter (Eric Clapton’s Song of the Year Change the World and Garth BrooksWrapped Up in You are his); O’Farrell to multifaceted success in the U.K. as a comic novelist, columnist and TV and film writer.

The seeds of Something Rotten! were sewn in the mid-1990s when Karey, who now lives in Los Angeles, and Wayne, who calls Nashville home, would get together for holidays or catch up by phone.

“We were big history buffs. It started with, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Shakespeare’s London were a lot like what Broadway was in the 1930s?’” Karey says. “Then it was, ‘What would it be like to be writing plays in the shadow of William Shakespeare, after Romeo and Juliet just opened?’”

“We thought of two writers,” Wayne says. “What if one went to a soothsayer? Then somewhere along the way it was, ‘What if the two writers were brothers? What if the soothsayer’s name was Nostradamus, but he wasn’t The Nostradamus? What if he was a senile, bad soothsayer, his nephew?’ Eventually it was, ‘If we’re going to do this, we should really get serious about it.’”

The brothers buckled down, and in 2010, Karey reached out to McCollum, producer of Rent and Avenue Q.

“We called Kevin and said, ‘What do you need?’ He said that Avenue Q was three songs and an idea,” Karey says. “He came to my house and we pitched him five songs and the idea. He said, ‘I think you’ve got something here.’ ”

Karey brought in O’Farrell, whom he’d met on Chicken Run, to help write the show’s story. The brothers crafted the music and lyrics, eventually writing more than 50 songs. What they had, after plenty of revisions and a multi-year developmental process, is a buoyant musical set in Shakespeare’s day that imagines the creation of the very first musical.

Something Rotten! centers around Nick and Nigel Bottom (the last name comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), brothers desperate for a hit in Elizabethan London, where William Shakespeare is a rock star-like god of the stage lately given to cribbing plots. 

Nick’s wife, Bea, a can-do gal in the style of Shakespearean heroines who cross-dress to get things done, tries to help. Nigel falls for a pretty Puritan named Portia, whose daddy strongly disapproves. Unreliable soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus, nephew of the Nostradamus, looks into the future and tells Nick that theater’s next big thing will be – tahdah! – “musicals,” where people sing, dance and act all at the same time.

Something Rotten! is laced throughout with humor for Shakespeare aficionados and musical theater geeks.

“We were conscious of not wanting to be so inside that you could only get it if you had seen the most obscure musicals,” Wayne Kirkpatrick said. “We went broad, purposely. We referenced not only the musicals that inspired us, but also musicals people would know even if they hadn’t seen them, or maybe they’d only seen the movie. The same with Shakespeare. Everybody knows some Shakespeare lines. There are a lot of what we refer to as his ‘hits’ that everybody is going to know.” 

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The end result is a show so that has been called fresh and funny and appeals to audiences of all backgrounds. “I think it doesn’t matter how much you know,” said Nicholaw, whose other current Broadway shows are Disney’s Aladdin (coming to Denver April 6-28) and The Book of Mormon (returning to Denver from June 13 through July 1). “My nieces and nephews say it’s their favorite show that I’ve done, and they don’t know any of the references.”

Added O’Farrell: “If it works as a musical for people who don’t know musicals or Shakespeare, then I’m happy. It’s about show business and putting on a show. The show works on many levels, but the main level it works on, I hope, is that it’s just a great fun night out.”

For the no-longer-green creative team, Something Rotten! has been a challenge, an education and a joy, an experience they still savor as the touring production plays cities all over the United States.

“This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but [it was] so rewarding to sit in a theater and watch all these amazing contributions from people who took it beyond our idea to create this magical, happy experience,” Wayne Kirkpatrick said.

(The preceding article was provided by Something Rotten!)

Bonus: Something Rotten! sings!


‘Something Rotten!’ is brimming with references from some of the most beloved modern musicals throughout history. Jazz hands out! Below is a list of just some of our favorites from the show-stopping number ‘A Musical’:

“I believe it’s called ‘Miser-ahh-bluh’”: This is directly referring to Les Misérables, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel and an English libretto by Herbert Kretzmer.

“Feel that fascinating rhythm move into your feet”: These lyrics are from George and Ira Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm, which was first included in the Broadway musical Lady Be Good in 1924 with Fred and Adele Astaire.

“It’s a musical, a Seussical?”: Seussical was a musical that debuted on Broadway in 2000 and was based on the books of Dr. Seuss. Stephen Flaherty independently composed the music and co-wrote the book with Lynn Ahrens, who also wrote the lyrics.

Sailor Hats: During A Musical, Nostradamus and the chorus men don sailor hats, which harkens to several nautical-themed musicals, including South Pacific, Anything Goes, On the Town and Dames at Sea.

“All That Jazz” number: This number comes from the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Chicago (returning to the Buell Theatre starting Nov. 28), featuring the iconic Broadway choreography of Bob Fosse.

“525,600 Minutes” excerpt: This moment comes from the song Seasons of Love from Jonathan Larson’s Rent which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1996. The 20th anniversary tour of Rent comes to the Buell Theatre Nov. 14-21,

Wash Buckets: The ensemble brings on cleaning buckets and emulates the iconic staging of the song It’s the Hard Knock Life from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s Annie. BDT Stage will be presenting Annie in Boulder from Nov. 18-Feb. 24.

Get in ‘Line’: The lyrics refer to the tradition of a chorus or ensemble dancing in a line in synchronized fashion. This can be seen with the world-famous Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes and the musical A Chorus Line. At the end of the song, the entire company crosses to one line downstage with headshots (or rather head… sketches) in front of their faces. This is also replication of the iconic staging from the musical A Chorus Line.

Fun photo gallery: A peek at the Playbills. Elizabethan style!

Something Rotten! A Peek at the Playbills

As a show about the “first” Broadway musical, there are naturally quite a few hilarious references to the Great White Way in Something Rotten! See how the titles of some famous shows would have changed if they were created at the turn of the 17th century.
To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears.

Something Rotten!: Ticket information
Something Rotten!At a glance: Set in 1595, this hit musical comedy  tells the story of two brothers who set out to write the world’s very first musical. It was called  ‘The Producers + Spamalot + The Book of Mormon. Squared,’ by New York Magazine. The New York Post called Something Rotten! ‘a big, fat hit.’

  • National touring production
  • Performances Oct. 17-29
  • Buell Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
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