Creating an original musical in “Something Rotten!”
Something Rotten!, the Tony Award-nominated show that’s touring the country this season, is an increasing rarity among Broadway musicals: it’s a completely original work not based on a movie, play, book or other source material.
The show originated from an idea that brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick had two decades ago. Karey, who started his career as a successful screenwriter for Disney Animation, and Wayne, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, imagined a writing team trying to come up with a hit play under the shadow of the most famous of playwrights, William Shakespeare.
Karey remembers, “It was a series of conversations that happened over many years. We were big history buffs. We started with ‘wouldn’t it be funny if Shakespeare’s London were a lot like what Broadway was like in the ‘30s?’ And went from there.”
Eventually bringing British comedy writer John O’Farrell on board to co-author the book with Karey, the creators sold the idea to Tony-winning producer Kevin McCollum, who had rolled the dice with such original musicals a Rent and Avenue Q.
Tony winner Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten! director and choreographer, says creating a show based on a new idea is just fun.
“You can go anywhere with it; you don’t have restrictions, you don’t have something to follow,” he says. “But of course you always seem to get to a place in Act Two where you’re going, ‘Oh my god. What happens now?’ Or, ‘We need a scene to get us to the end!’”
By the time Something Rotten! opened on Broadway in April 2015, after more than four years of work, the Kirkpatricks had written more than 50 songs (15 made it into the show) and O’Farrell and Karey had done countless rewrites.
“This was really an education, like four years of college, and Casey was our professor,” Karey says. “The good news is, the songs we wrote our senior year were much more successful than the ones we wrote our freshman year.”
And it could be said the team graduated with top honors: Something Rotten! was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
O’Farrell concludes, “There’s just one great song after another. And in between, the jokes are funny. What more do you want?”