It happens rarely these days, a cast stepping off Broadway to take a show on tour, and “Something Rotten!” is a rare musical — a throwback to crowd-pleasing comedies aimed at belly laughs and a rollicking good time.
Where: PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center.
When: Jan. 31-Feb. 5. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $26-$77; trustarts.org or 412-456-4800.
Rob McClure, the Tony-nominated star of the musical “Chaplin,” stars as Nick Bottom, who with his brother Nigel (Josh Grisetti) are struggling playwrights trying everything to upstage their chief rival — an infuriating guy named William Shakespeare (“Rent’s” Adam Pascal), the rock star of Elizabethan England.
Messrs. McClure, Grisetti and Pascal were on the Broadway stage when the Tony-nominated show closed Jan. 8 and stepped right into the tour. They are joined on the road by Mr. McClure’s wife, Maggie Lakis, as Nick’s wife Bea, and Blake Hammond as Nostradamus — the man who has just the thing to bring down the Bard: a musical!
The big number “It’s a Musical!” is the kind of flashy, pop culture-soaked number Broadway has come to expect from director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“Book of Mormon”; “Spamalot”; “Aladdin”).
“ ‘Something Rotten!’ is about as big a splashy Broadway spectacle as you can imagine, so it’s going to fill those houses beautifully,” Mr. McClure said of bringing the show to the Benedum Center, Downtown, starting on Tuesday. “The set design and Gregg Barnes’ remarkable costumes are going to look beautiful in those big old houses.”
Mostly, he wants people to know how funny “Something Rotten!” is.
“If you love musicals, there’s not a better show for you. If you love Shakespeare, there’s not a better show for you. But if you hate both of them, the show pokes fun at them and doesn’t take itself seriously,” he said.
His character opens the show, as he puts it, “spouting iambic pentameter,” and he can feel the relief from some audience members when he stops and says, “Who talks like this?”
His first number in the show is “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”
“Again, it’s about letting the audience off the hook and letting them know this is a show to relax and enjoy. We are paying tribute to and also roasting all of them.”
Mr. McClure has taken a tour on the road before — he starred in “Avenue Q” when it played Pittsburgh.
He can laugh now about his most recent visit, although back in February of last year, it might have seemed more like something rotten.
During that eventful trip for a Monday Trust Cabaret concert with Laura Osnes, his travel time was restricted because he was then starring in Broadway’s “Noises Off!” His flight here was canceled due to a storm, so he rented a car and drove to Pittsburgh.
“It was like John Candy and Steve Martin in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’ I was going to get there no matter what,” he said.
After the concert, he thought he had a day to rest at one of his favorite hotels, the Omni William Penn.
“So, I get to the hotel and I take a big exhale and I put my bag down, and my agent calls and says they are canceling all the flights in the morning. … So I put my bag right back on my shoulder and I did a red-eye run, on the second floor of a Megabus.”
A couple of good things did come out of that trip — the concert itself, his first with Broadway’s “Cinderella,” Ms. Osnes, and he created a Mister Rogers medley for the occasion that now is a standard opening for his concerts.
“Mister Rogers was a huge influence on me, absolutely,” the actor said. “I think for any performer my age, he was so empathetic. No matter who was on his show, he always embraced them, and that’s our job as performers, to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.”
He noted that even the actor playing Sweeney Todd has to get in touch with what drove him to that point of madness. “It’s that sort of empathy that Fred Rogers taught us as kids. No matter what your walk of life is, put yourself in other people’s shoes and see what they are about, and yeah, that really stayed with me.”
In “Something Rotten!,” his character aspires to trade places with the man on the all-time playwriting pedestal. To make matters worse, this version of Shakespeare is egocentric to the max.
This over-the-top comedic Bard is a role originated by Christian Borle, and it earned him his second Tony Award.
Mr. McClure jumped from the wild farce “Noises Off!” into “Something Rotten!,” replacing Tony nominee Brian d’Arcy James. The appeal of taking it on the road is “more than anything, the idea of bringing a really great comedy to the country right now just felt nice. And as a bonus, my wife Maggie Lakis, is playing my wife on the road.”
It’s a life they know: They traveled to 67 cities in two years with another comedy, the adults-only puppet musical “Avenue Q.”
“Something Rotten!” is wildly antic, but doesn’t come with warnings for profanity, sex or violence.
“It is wildly funny,” Mr. McClure said when asked the one thing you should know before approaching “Something Rotten!” “The composer and playwright know funny. Our director knows funny. You’re talking about the director of ‘Book of Mormon’ and ‘Aladdin,’ a guy who knows how to put on a show. It’s the ultimate Broadway musical comedy.”
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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