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Theatre / Something Rotten!

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A musical
And nothing's as amazing as a musical
With song and dance, and sweet romance
And happy endings happening by happenstance
Bright lights, stage fights
And a dazzling chorus
You wanna be great? Then you gotta create
A musical"
Nostradamus, "A Musical"

It's The '90s! The 1590s, that is. Shakespeare is in his prime and is beloved by everyone in London. Everyone, that is, except Nick Bottom, a playwright who just doesn't understand Shakespeare's appeal and wishes he had his fame. Desperate to write a good play, he goes to see a soothsayer named Nostradamus (no, not that Nostradamus, his nephew Thomas) to find out what the future of theatre holds. Nostradamus tells him that in the future, theatre will involve singing and dancing. So, Nick and his brother/writing partner Nigel set out to write the world's first musical.

The show premiered on Broadway in 2015, featuring Brian D'arcy James as Nick, John Cariani as Nigel, Christian Borle as Shakespeare, and Brad Oscar as Nostradamus. Heidi Blickenstaff plays Nick's wife, Bea, and Kate Reinders plays Nigel's love interest, Portia.

This musical contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: The entire thing is essentially an (endlessly mocking) love letter to the American musical, though special mention must be given to the song A Musical, which is just seven minutes of musical references, ranging from unmissable to extremely obscure.
  • Almost Kiss: At one point in the Broadway production, Shakespeare starts to lean in towards Nigel's face almost like he's about to plant one on his lips, but then moves aside at the last second to whisper in his ear instead.
  • Anachronism Stew: Omelet the Musical ends up becoming this, full of cockney chimney sweeps, nuns, Russian fiddlers, and references to songs and places that don't exist yet.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Shakespeare can be quite flirtatious with the ladies, and has boatloads of Ho Yay with both of the Bottom brothers. Worth noting, several historians theorize that the real life bard was indeed gay.
  • An Aesop: When you are starting out in theater, it's better to try and put in the work to stand on your own merits. Pros can get away with stealing stuff, but you don't want to give them the fodder.
  • Anti-Villain: Shakespeare would be a standard Jerkass except that it's established that he does put in the work for writing his plays and poetry. What's more, he has a right to be angry on finding out his rival is trying to plagiarize his greatest work. The part that makes him a villain is taking Nigel's work on Hamlet and getting Nick prosecuted for plagiarism.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Brother Jeremiah portrays himself as a staunch Puritan, if only to hide the fact that he's really, really homosexual (or, judging by the fact he has a daughter, bisexual).
  • As the Good Book Says...: Portia quotes from Psalms when she tells her father of her decision to join Nigel in the colonies.
    "You have your poets, Father, (turns to Nigel) and I will have mine."
  • Bathos: The second act does this by juxtaposing Nick's vision (a goofy play about breakfast) with Nigel's vision (the "audience-repelling death play" that lays the groundwork for Hamlet proper). "Something Rotten," for instance, starts with the Yorick — sorry, Yolk — scene and an ominous song about the state of the kingdom, then switches over to an upbeat number about finding silver linings only for Eggbert to be horrified at the sight of his dead father... who continues cheerfully singing.
  • Battle Rapping: During the number 'Bottom's Gonna Be On Top', Nick and Shakespeare do a tap dance while boasting about their accomplishments and insulting each other, in a combination of this trope and a Dance-Off.
  • Be Yourself: Or in other words... "To thine own self... beeeeee truuuue..."
  • Big Brother Worship: Nigel greatly admires his older brother, Nick, and considers him one of his heroes alongside Shakespeare. However, during the production of "Omelet", doubts begin to arise which lead to them having a falling out. By the end of the play, they manage to reconcile.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Bea arriving at the court just in time to save Nick from being sentenced to beheading.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, The Bottoms, Shylock and Thomas Nostradamus are banished to America due to the failure of Nick's scheme... and, as a result, Shakespeare gets away with counter-plagiarizing from Nigel's script. On the other hand, it's a new start of sorts, and it's implied that this is exactly what lays the groundwork for the eventual success of the musical as a medium.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: When Bea appears at court dressed as a lawyer, she declares, "Nick Bottom's wife, who is a loving, kind, compassionate, patient woman," then turns to the court clerk and says, "Make sure you write all that down!"
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: Appropriately enough, the title is taken from "Hamlet"; Something's Rotten in the state of Denmark.
  • Cue Card Pause: In "Something Rotten"/"Make an Omelette."
    Nick (as Eggbert): My father said this to me... that he did, and then he blew me... away with wisdom simple and concise...
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The show doesn't shy away from acknowledging the rampant anti-Semitism in the Elizabethan era. Shylock even hopes that the play Shakespeare plans to write about him will make people see him as a "really, really, nice Jew."
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "I Love the Way"
    Nigel: (after racing through his poetry) Argh, I finished too quickly!
    Portia: (disappointed) It's okay... Can you write me another one?
    Nigel: Straight away?
  • Double Entendre: The song 'Bottom's Gonna Be On Top' is pretty much just a five and half minute long innuendo. As is "I Love the Way."
  • Enemy Mine: Shakespeare is responsible for getting Nick, Nigel, and all the other actors on trial, but he also helps get them off.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The whole thing gets started by Thomas mistaking Shakespeare's next hit "Hamlet" for "Omelette".
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Shakespeare gets offended when Nick Bottom plans to plagiarize his future work using a soothsayer. He justifies stealing Nigel's work in that technically Shakespeare wrote it first according to the soothsayer, so he's only stealing from himself. Which, in a Circular Logic sense, is technically true.
    • Shakespeare is all too happy to remove the Bottom brothers from his local competition, but he objects to them getting executed, instead merely relocating them, allowing his competitors to live and continue writing, just far away from him and his audiences.
  • Foregone Conclusion: "Hamlet" isn't known as one of Bottom's greatest plays, is it?
  • Easily Forgiven: Bea knows Nick has stolen from their money box against her wishes, but - despite being peeved - doesn't confront him about this as she trusts in his good character. The original version in previews actually had her find this out later and react in anger, though she still sided with and helped him out then as well.
  • Evil Brit: Shakespeare isn't evil, but he's quite clearly a dick, and the only character who speaks with an English accent.
  • Evil Is Petty: While not evil, Shakespeare's a Jerkass who decides to name one of his dumbest characters after his rival Nick Bottom, even after he's already humiliated and beaten his far less successful fellow playwright.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: An inversion, as Shakespeare is Nick's main antagonist and sings with a rock tenor voice. Although, he's not evil, just a douche.
  • Gag Penis: In the 2017 production at the Orpheum, practically every single male actor wore an enormous codpiece. Shakespeare in general always has a very sizable one.
  • Gasp!: Everyone gasps every time Nick openly says he hates Shakespeare in the aptly titled song "God, I Hate Shakespeare".
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In his reprise of "God, I Hate Shakespeare", Nick admits that his hatred of the Bard is mostly because Shakespeare is everything Nick wishes he could be.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Portia and Nigel fall almost instantly in love over their shared passion for poetry.
  • Gospel Choirs Are Just Better: The Puritans in "We See The Light."
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Nick Bottom really wants to be better than Shakespeare. His solution is to use a soothsayer to plagiarize Shakespeare's greatest work; the only thing that redeems him is that he accidentally writes an original music about omelettes and that he chose to do this because his back was up against the wall and he needed to support his poor and growing family. Shakespeare in the meantime also has no issue plagiarizing, but is rightly offended that Nick isn't planning to put the work in and decides the answer is to steal the play they're working on and turn it into his greatest work.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In "A Musical", Nick scoffs at the entire idea of a singing about it.
    Nick: So an actor is saying his lines...and all of a sudden he just starts singing? Well, that is the
    Stupidest thing that I have ever heard...
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Will Power" is one for Shakespeare, bragging unapologetically about how amazing he is to a cheering crowd.
  • "I Hate" Song: Nick's song "God, I Hate Shakespeare" is devoted to how much he hates his fellow playwright Shakespeare. It starts off with Nick ranting about all the ways he finds Shakespeare and his plays boring and pretentious, eventually devolving into Nick screaming that he loathes every single single thing about Shakespeare. However, a later reprise of the song has Nick admit that he's jealous of Shakespeare's success, with Nick even saying that he'd do anything to gain even a bit of Shakespeare's noteriety.
  • Imagine Spot:
    • "Bottom's Gonna Be On Top" revolves around Nick's fantasies of runaway success, including Shakespeare openly referring to him as an equal.
    • "We See The Light" is one of these for Portia, who's hoping Nigel will be able to win over her family.
  • The Ingenue: Portia, who has her not so innocent moments, but never by her own intention.
  • Insult Backfire: Nick irritably telling Nigel that his melodramatic gushing is making him sound like Shakespeare only flatters him.
  • It's All About Me: Shakespeare could not exemplify this trope more.
  • It Was His Sled: Parodied - Nick mentions that Romeo and Juliet kill themselves at the end, absolutely devastating Clapham who hadn't seen the (at the time) new play yet.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • Nick feels this way about musicals at the start of "A Musical," but comes around by the end of the number.
    • Later, when they're having creative differences, Nick says this to Nigel: "We need a hit, not some audience-repelling death-play about your descent into madness!"
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nick is kind of a jerk, but he loves his family and only wants to provide for them.
  • Karma Houdini: Shakespeare steals Nigel's work and passes it off as his own, receiving even more success and acclaim as a result.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • To ensure that Nick won't listen to his sensible brother, Shakespeare while posing as Toby says that Hamlet will need more of a breakfast theme.
    • Shakespeare goes out of his way to make sure Nick and his whole acting troupe are publicly humiliated after stealing his play back.
  • Large Ham: Hamminess, thy name is Shakespeare.
  • Leitmotif:
    • Nigel has a recurring theme that he uses whenever he monologues during a song; it shows up in "God, I Hate Shakespeare," "We See The Light" and "To Thine Own Self."
    • Every time Nick and Nigel write a musical, the first song we hear from it builds off the same melody.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "It's the Black Death, Black Death, whoo!" which is basically everyone singing about the Black Death in a jaunty way compared to the soundtrack's gloomy instrumentation.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: Nostradamus is a supporting character who steals the show with "A Musical".
    • The Minstrel who leads the opening number "Welcome to the Renaissance".
  • Mistaken for Gay: Happens to Nick and Bea twice, while Bea is disguised as a man.
  • The Mole: Shakespeare joins Nick's troupe as an actor named "Toby Belch" in order to find out about more about Nick's apparently-brilliant new play.
    • The name also becomes a great pun during the climax of the show, when Toby reveals himself to be Shakespeare in the middle of opening night of Omelette.
    Nick: Toby?
    Shakespeare:' Toby...or not Toby... that is the question!
  • Motor Mouth: Nigel, especially when he's nervous which is... most of the time.
  • Musical Number Annoyance: Lampshaded, Parodied, Discussed and Conversed when Nick visits soothsayer Thomas Nostradamus to find out what will make his failing theatrical productions a smash hit. Nostradamus peers into the future and discovers musical theater, which kicks off a song-and-dance number during which an incredulous Nick describes exactly why he thinks actors breaking into song-and-dance numbers during a show is the stupidest thing he's ever heard of:
    Nick: Wait, wait, wait, so an actor is saying his lines and then out of nowhere he just starts singing?
    Nostradamus: Yes.
    Nick: Well that is the...
    [singing] Stupidest thing that I have ever heard
    You're doing a play, got something to say
    So you sing it? It's absurd
    Who on Earth is going to sit there
    While an actor breaks into song?
    What possible thought could the audience think
    Other than "this is horribly wrong?"
  • Named Like My Name: Thomas Nostradamus is not the Nostradamus, although he is his nephew.
    • Nick Bottom, his troupe members (minus Nigel), Portia, Bea(trice) and Shylock all share names with characters from Shakespeare's works. Shylock even mentions Shakespeare having promised to use him as a character, though the portrayal was far from flattering. Shakespeare's own mole name, "Toby Belch" is shared by a drunken, boorish man from Twelfth Night. Shakespeare also promises to name a character after the judge, Falstaff.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Portia convinces Nigel to support Nick on opening night. Nigel does, after having shown Hamlet to a disguised Shakespeare. It's possible if Nigel hadn't supported Nick, then he wouldn't be prosecuted for plagiarism.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Other than Shakespeare, none of the characters speak with English accents.
  • Only Sane Man: Nigel bluntly tells Nick that Shakespeare's greatest work surely can't be about eggs. What would the public about it? Unfortunately, by the time Nick realizes Nigel is right, they're being prosecuted for plagiarism.
  • The Perils of Being the Best: Shakespeare's song, "Hard To Be The Bard", shows that despite being considered the best playwright in England, upholding his reputation is a challenge he faces on a daily basis.
    Shakespeare: "I know writing made me famous, but being famous is just so much more fun!"
  • Pet the Dog: At the end, Shakespeare helps save the lives of Nick and his entire troupe after getting them endangered in the first place. While he's called out for getting them out of his way in doing so, he notes that letting them die would've got him the same results.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. Shylock, although he is, unlike his namesake in The Merchant of Venice, a "really, really nice Jew," is hated by everyone, and is forced into the rather unsavory profession of moneylending because it's the only job Jews are allowed to have. Truth in Television, as Anti-Semitism was prevalent during this period.
  • Pride: Possibly Nick's fatal flaw. He refuses to accept his wife's help, and gets blinded by his own ego during the Second Act.
  • Quarreling Song: "To Thine Own Self" is one for Nick and Nigel.
    Nick: You just have to trust me, I know what I'm doing.
    Nigel: I think that you're out of your mind if you think that pursuing that is a good thing.
    Nick: Well I do.
    Nigel: Okay, well I don't.
    (later in the song)
    Nick: I'm wrong. And this "true to yourself" thing is right?
    Nigel: That's not just a line, it's what I believe.
    Nick: Then you are a fool and really naive if you think it's as simple as that.
    Nigel: Well I do.
    Nick: Okay, well I don't.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Nick's song "God, I Hate Shakespeare" is basically "The Reason Shakespeare Sucks: The Musical Number". Nick says that Shakespeare's plays are boring and pretentious, Shakespeare himself is someone who pretends to be humble but really has a massive ego, and that he finds the hype around Shakespeare to be annoying.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Shakespeare actually had a strong justification to steal Nick's new show, as it's just a (horribly warped) plagiarization of Shakespeare's as of year unwritten greatest hit. And even when Nigel actually writes the real thing through real artistic merit, Shakespeare taking his work is still just stealing what was originally supposed to be his. However, while this theft can be justified, you can only forgive it so much since Shakespeare's attempts at plagiarizing extend beyond it, while Nick's is just a one time instance that just so happens to allow a thief to be in the right this time.
  • Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: Nigel has seen Romeo and Juliet SIX times. Portia's seen it EIGHT!
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Thomas Nostradamus's prediction that "Omelette" will be Shakespeare's greatest play indirectly leads to Shakespeare stealing Nigel's work and re-purposing it for Hamlet.
  • Serious Business: Nick and Nigel are exiled for the crime of plagiarizing Shakespeare. Don't steal from the bard.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: Portrayed as something of a rock star. The show also plays with the authorship question a bit — he very much exists, and he's written original work, but during the story he goes through a period of writer's block that drives him to attempt plagiarism. And eventually succeed in doing so.
  • Shout-Out: Dozens and dozens of them. Just try to find a musical that isn't referenced by this show. If you want to test someone’s knowledge of musicals, play them “A Musical” and see how many references they spotted.
  • Show Within a Show: The protagonist attempts to write and put on a show about eggs.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Nigel and Portia, by virtue of the latter's Puritan upbringing. Ultimately subverted; she runs off to America with the Bottoms when they get banished.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Bea disguises herself as a man so she can get a job, and later disguises herself as a lawyer so she can defend Nick from being sentenced to death.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Almost every sentence from Brother Jeremiah.
    "I will smack you Bottoms!"
    • His daughter Portia seems to have inherited this trait.
    [singing] I find pleasure perusing those writings and musing so often I pleasure myself!
    Wait, that didn’t sound right
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Nostradamus envisions the Nazis playing a large role in a future musical (The Sound of Music or Cabaret) but he doesn't know whether they are good guys or bad guys. They eventually decide that they are good guys.
  • Title Drop: During "Something Rotten! / Make an Omelette."
  • Villain Protagonist: Nick Bottom does want to plagiarize one of the world's greatest playwrights rather than put in the work to write something original. He does so with good intentions and only when he believe he has no other choice, but the show makes it quite clear that he's still in the wrong.
  • Why Didn't I Think of That?: Shakespeare says this when his spies report that Nick is using a soothsayer to find out what Shakespeare's greatest work is.
  • Women Are Wiser: Bea has way more common sense than Nick, which Nigel lampshades.
    "You should listen to her. She's usually right."
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Nick dreams of Shakespeare bowing down to him and admitting he's better, which he then not so graciously responds to with mockery. In actuality though, the bard has just as little respect for Nick as he does for him and this never changes.
    • However, Shakespeare does come to see Nigel as an equal, though for the sake of his plans he can't bring himself to admit how brilliant his writing is, only showing him some proper respect once he's gotten his potential rival out of the picture.