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'Something Rotten' creators poke fun at musicals while paying tribute

Brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick always wanted to write a musical.

Wayne is a Nashville-based songwriter who has written hits for Garth Brooks and Faith Hill. And Karey is a screenwriter and director, known for the animated films “Over the Hedge” and “Chicken Run.”

They collaborated with author John O’Farrell and “Book of Mormon” choreographer Casey Nicholaw to create their first musical, “Something Rotten!" — a Renaissance farce that borrows more from rock ’n’ roll than it does from 16th century wigged composers.

It tells the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, playwrights working in the shadow of William Shakespeare. And a prophecy, made by the less gifted nephew of Nostradamus, foretells the next big thing in theater — the musical.

“Something Rotten!” premiered on Broadway in 2015. John Horn met with Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick a few days after the show opened at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

Interview Highlights:

On what setting this story in the Renaissance afforded them creatively:

WAYNE: Imagining what it must have been like if we were living in that time and it was the modern equivalent of whatever we have today. Today we would sing about iPhones and computers. So they're talking about their modern inventions — the freezing of meat (laughs).

KAREY: Francis Bacon really was freezing chickens. And we had a joke that John [O’Farrell] and I wrote that there was an apple store — just a store where they sold apples – and everybody was lined up outside the apple store. Stuff like that. We love history. And we actually tried to stay as historically accurate as possible. Although, all of the writers that we're referencing from the Renaissance — this is set in 1595 — they were of various ages. So we take some liberties.

On the contributions of choreographer Casey Nicholaw:

KAREY: He was the perfect fit for this material. 

WAYNE: He was really a fourth collaborator. The show was a work-in-progress. When he came on board, we didn't have a completed book or all of the songs yet. It was still being formulated. Him being a seasoned Broadway veteran helped guide us through the murky waters.

KAREY: He has Broadway structure in his blood. He understands better than anyone that I've met what should happen when in a musical. We wrote over 50 songs for the piece. And to our credit, there weren't any bad songs — it was just songs that weren't right. He was the one pushing us, saying, I don't think you want this kind of song here. I think this needs to be an ensemble number. 

WAYNE: He was, early on, responsible for how the number, "A Musical," became what it is. The early version of that song was a much more laid-back approach. His early note was, This is your moment to do a really big [number]! — which influenced writing a different chorus for that.

Listen to "A Musical":

On writing "A Musical":

A friend of ours, Jeanine Tesori, who's another Broadway composer, came and watched the show. And she wrapped it up in a way that I hadn't really thought of. She said, That song and that show pokes fun of the form while paying tribute to the form all in the same stroke. I was like, Oh, that's a nice way to put it. Because that's what we were trying to do. And that song, "A Musical," was an early one that we wrote that allowed us to go explore all the tropes and poke fun at it. Part of it is, I know people who hate musicals — my wife being one of them — and who have a hard time with the form. That just can't get past people bursting into song and it feels ridiculous to them. So that seemed like a great leaping off place for some comedy.

On the feminist undertones in the story:

We wrote the jokes about women — "This is the [15]90s," "We have a woman on the throne," "Women are going to be completely equal to men by the year 1600." This was all written pre-Hillary [Clinton] running for election. But when we were opening on Broadway, we were in the middle of all of that early election stuff. In fact, on one of our dark nights, they had a fundraiser for Hillary in the St. James Theater, so all of these jokes were landing in a way that made us feel like we were pimping out the topics of the day, but we weren't.

"Something Rotten!" is at the Ahmanson Theater through Dec. 31.