Interview with Wayne Kirkpatrick, Music & Lyrics of Something Rotten!
Posted on 08/07/2018
Set in 1595, the hilarious smash Something Rotten! tells the story of Nick and Nigel Bottom, two brothers who are desperate to write a hit play. Wayne Kirkpatrick, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, joins us to discuss how the show came together over a decade and how him and his brother wrote it as a love letter to Broadway itself. Don't miss Something Rotten! November 2-3 for 3 shows only.
Bert: Hello again and welcome to All Access with State Theatre New Jersey. This is the show that takes you backstage, behind the scenes, and behind the curtain at the legendary state theatre in downtown New Brunswick. What a show we got for you this week I am Bert Baron joined as always by the Director of Communications of State Theatre, Kelly Blithe, this year. How are you Kel?
Kelly: Good, how are you Bert?
Bert: And we have a very special guest with us in the studio here, now don’t we?
Kelly: We do. Today for our Broadway edition of all access we have Hanna Wasserman with us. Welcome Hanna. Of course a Broadway super fan
Hanna: Of course. If were talking Broadway, I gotta be here.
Kelly: So Hanna, Bert, we have a great special guest with us kicking off the hour in celebration of the 2018-2019 Broadway season. Of course this edition will talk with some of Broadway’s most creative minds behind this season’s shows. And kicking things off with us today is one of the writers of hilarious musical, Something Rotten!, coming to State Theatre on November 2nd and 3rd. Welcome Wayne Kirkpatrick.
Wayne: Hey, thank you.
Kelly: Hey, so Wayne, for those of us who have been living under a rock I guess, not Hanna and I cause we’ve definitely seen the show, tell us about what Something Rotten is all about.
Wayne: Oh wow, well it is about two brothers that lived during the Renaissance Era and they are desperately trying to get a hit and are having the hardest time. They are living in the shadow of the guy that everything he writes is a hit and that is William Shakespeare. So they… I don’t know how much you want me to give away. So they go about trying to figure out a way to write a hit buy going to a soothsayer. A soothsayer by the name of Nostradamus, he’s not the Nostradamus. He’s his nephew, Thomas Nostradamus. They basically go to Nostradamus to see what the next greatest thing, actually see what the next big hit that Shakespeare will write so that they can try to write before he does. And things go terribly wrong.
Kelly: That’s a great way to explain it. Wayne, what I love about this show is that it pokes fun at Shakespeare and musical theatre itself. But it’s like you don’t have to be a big Shakespeare fan or a big musical theatre fan to really enjoy it. Tell us how you guys got to that level about to making it the right combination. Are we talking about years of perfecting those ideas and that script?
Wayne: Well, sort of. Actually, me and my brother, Karey, we came up with this idea back in, I’d say around '96 is when we started talking about this idea and slowly developing this idea over the span of 15 years I would say. So extremely casually talking about it, somewhere along the way that we decided if we are ever going to do this and write it we need to get serious about it. And so that took another about four and a half years or so of writing it. And it is, like you said, it’s kind of a you don’t have to know a lot about theater to enjoy it, in fact, one of the greatest compliments we get is when people bring people to the show, their spouses or their friends, and they’ll say they don’t really like musical theater but they like this. Because it pokes fun at musical theater so if you don’t like musical theater you can go poke fun at it but it’s also a love letter to musical theater and it is a great appreciation and a nod to so many things in musical theater. And the same thing with Shakespeare, if you love Shakespeare you’ll get a certain thing out of it and if you hate Shakespeare you’ll get another certain thing out of it. So it’s a little bit for everybody.
Hanna: So speaking of Shakespeare, the show portrays Shakespeare in an unusual way compared to a number of other works that you generally see him in as this very prophetic writer. So you got to write these great songs that are worthy of him as a rock star, such as “Hard to Be the Bard” and “Will Power”. What was it like writing for that specific character? What was it like having the opportunity to work with Shakespeare’s works and being able to use them in your songs?
Wayne: Yeah, that was quite a lot of fun and it actually took a while before it dawned on us that we should treat Shakespeare as a rock star. Once we landed on that, we kind of entertained the notion that if Shakespeare was living in today’s world then how we would view him. So we were kind of viewing him through the lenses of what he has become in modern day. So we equated that to the popstars, the rock stars, the performers, the writers, you know the triple threat. Which led us to the idea that he is going to go perform all of his greatest hits, that’s what lead us to writing a song that incorporates a lot of his well-known catch phrases and just making a song out of that and creating a rock concert out of it and Shakespeare doing his greatest hits. And then also with the other song “Hard to Be the Bard” also looking at the inner demons of someone who is writing who is on the top and trying to stay on top and the insecurities and how hard it is and how much more fun it is to be famous than to work and do the work that it takes to get there. And the struggles of trying to come up with ideas to top yourself when you are at the top. Those are really fun to explore.
Kelly: Speaking of work, you are a Grammy Award®-winning song writer, written songs you won for “Change the World” by Eric Clapton. You’ve written for Bonnie Raitt, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Joe Cocker, it just goes on and on. Not having that Broadway background, what made you guys take the leap into writing a Broadway show especially one that is not based on a movie or a play or a book and is a completely original work? What made you guys do this?
Wayne: Well, actually, all through high school I went to a Magnet School and so did Karey, we went to the same school and it was a magnet school so you had to choose a major and my major and his major were both theater. So we do have a theater background, we’ve always loved theater, have always gone to the theater and have always wanted to write a musical. It’s kind of a full circle for both of us. Even though Karey pursed and became a screen writer and I pursed commercial music and song-writer, we had those theatrical foundations in us and it just took us a while to get around to it. It’s not as foreign as you think and that’s why there is even within the music even if it may be perceived as making fun of it, it is at its core it is our love of theater. This being a vehicle for our way to express that and the lifelong love that we’ve had for it
Hanna: So speaking of your love of musical theatre, all throughout Something Rotten even though its making jabs there are references to many shows Rent, Cats, A Chorus Line, Annie, etc., etc. How did you narrow down which references to make and when? And specifically looking at it’s a musical and it whips through all of these references. What was it like putting of all that together into this one show?
Wayne: I think one thing along the way was when we were referencing that when we were referencing we also at the core we didn’t want to go so deep that it would exclude people. One of the things we were conscience of is what are, and this refers to the Shakespeare stuff as well, what are the broad strokes? What are the references that most everyone would know? And of course whether its Oklahoma, Sound of Music, or Cats. You know if you say Cats everyone has heard of it whether they’ve seen it or not. And if you hear “To be or not to be” whether you’ve seen a Shakespeare play or not. Or “all the worlds a stage” so we really use that as the guideline of where to stop with the references. And then we start adding some layers for the diehards. So that’s really where it started, trying to be all inclusive in our references, as much as we could.
Kelly: Nice. Wayne, when you guys were putting together the show at what point was it time to start bringing in other people and really forming the show? Who was the first person you guys connected with to kind of get moving on Something Rotten!?
Wayne: Well that would be Kevin McCollum, who is the producer, who is fortunately someone we have known for a long time. My brother worked at Disney World with Kevin when they were in their 20s. Kevin went to film school with Karey and then eventually left California and got into producing Broadway musicals and his first big show was Rent. We knew Kevin before Rent and then Kevin went on to produce other shows like Avenue Q, In the Heights, and The Drowsy Chaperone and the list goes on and on. So we had an open door with Kevin and we’ve told him we had an idea for a musical and he said he’d love to hear what you guys come up with. So after that 15 year time period I was talking about where we were talking about this musical it was at one point it was decided that if we were ever going to be serious about this we need to do it and how do we do that. How do you write a musical? How much of a musical do you have to have to pitch it? So that’s when we put in a call to Kevin and he said Avenue Q was three songs and an idea and In the Heights was a concept. And we said we’ve got that much can we pitch you what we have. So we got together, I flew out to California, Kevin was going to be out in California and we went out to dinner and we pitched him the idea. We went back to Karey’s place and sat down at the piano and played him about five song ideas in rough form that we had. From there he kind of lived with it for a week or so and then he said I think you guys are onto something and we should talk about moving forward. And my response at that point uh oh now we have to write this.
Kelly: Well, it was definitely a great pairing for sure with you guys all with Kevin. This is just a fantastic show I got to say that Hanna and I are super fans for sure. We love this show when we booked it at State Theatre we were so so excited. Thank you so much Wayne for being on today’s show. Everybody can check out Something Rotten! on November 2nd and 3rd at State Theatre New Jersey and you can get your tickets at stnj.org. Wayne Kirkpatrick, thank you so much for being on today’s show we are super thrilled about the show coming and great to talk to you.
Wayne: Great to talk to you. Hope you enjoy it!