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Rotten Luck

The raucous musical “Something Rotten!” mines the incongruity between the Elizabethan era and the Broadway musical.

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The year is 1595, and Nick Bottom has a problem: He hates William Shakespeare.

Perhaps a dislike of the Bard wouldn't be so bad, except that Nick and his brother Nigel run a competing theater troupe, and the world's most famous English-language writer does the kind of box office sales that would make "Avengers: Endgame" jealous. Whatever is a down-on-his-luck playwright to do?

For Nick Bottom, the answer is found in seeking out the soothsayer Nostradamus to discover what the next big thing in theater will be. A musical, says the famed seer.

Such is the premise of "Something Rotten!" a musical that premiered on Broadway in 2015 and garnered 10 Tony nominations. The brainchild of real-life brothers Wayne Kirkpatrick, a Nashville songwriter, and Karey Kirkpatrick, the co-writer and sometimes director of animated films like "Chicken Run" and "Over the Hedge," the raucous, anarchic musical mines the incongruity between the Elizabethan era and the Broadway musical for laughs.

This weekend, the traveling Broadway production comes to the Altria Theater for three performances.

"It's a great musical, because if you love Shakespeare, you'll love the show, but if you hate Shakespeare, you'll love the show," says actress Jennifer Elizabeth Smith, who plays Portia in the touring production. "It's really modern and really fun. There's a little something for everyone."

In the show, Smith's character is a Puritan who falls in love with Nick's brother Nigel. Because of her religion, she must hide her interest in the arts.

"She [isn't allowed to] read poetry," Smith explains. "Her father is very religious. He's the big religious leader of the show, but she secretly loves [the works of] Shakespeare and she loves to read plays. She bumps into a poet named Nigel, and they end up falling in love."

References abound in the "Something Rotten!" Hamlet's two childhood friends, for instance, are name-checked as the law firm Rosen, Krantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet himself is misremembered as "Omelette," and the Bottom brothers attempt to create a musical about eggs.

For those who prefer musicals to Shakespeare, the song "A Musical" alludes to "A Chorus Line" and "Les Misérables," among others. Numerous Broadway hits appear in the showstopping number.

"It's the first time the idea of the musical is introduced to our show, and it's huge and all our ensemble's in it," Smith says. "It's amazing. Usually, we have to wait for a good two minutes for the applause to die down."

Local audiences will benefit from the fact that Richmond is the last stop of this tour, Smith says. Since it began in August, the tour of "Something Rotten!" has seen roughly 225 performances.

"It's all going to come to an end there, and I feel like it's going to be really magical," Smith says. "Those audiences are going to get our last show energy."

As for the Kirkpatricks, "Something Rotten!" isn't the last we'll hear of them. Last year it was announced that they were teaming up with collaborator John O'Farrell to create a musical adaptation of "Mrs. Doubtfire." While that project has yet hit the stage, Smith says "Something Rotten!" remains one of the best shows around.

"The musical numbers are so big and broad that they're just a really good time," she says. "If you're looking for a night of musical fun — just frivolous entertainment — come see our show."

"Something Rotten!" runs May 17-19 at the Altria Theater, 6 N. Laurel St. For information visit broadwayinrichmond.com.

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