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"It's...
A...
Musical
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"
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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 interst, Portia.

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This musical contains examples of:

  • Adorkable: Nigel, whose awkwardness only serves to make him more sympathetic.
  • 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.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted. The story is completely new.
  • 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.
  • 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).
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  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "I Love the Way"
    Nigel (after racing through his poetry): Argh, I finished too quickly!
    Portia (dissappointed): 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.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The whole thing gets started by Thomas mistaking Shakespeare's next hit "Hamlet" for "Omelette".
  • Foregone Conclusion: "Hamlet" isn't known as one of Bottom's greatest plays, is it?
  • Gag Penis: In the 2017 production at the Orpheum, practically every single male actor wore an enormous codpiece.
  • 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."
  • Hypocritical Humor: In "A Musical", Nick scoffs at the entire idea of a musical...by singing about it.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Will Power" is one for Shakespeare, bragging unapologetically about how amazing he is to a cheering crowd.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • Motor Mouth: Nigel, especially when he's nervous which is... most of the time.
  • Named Like My Name: Thomas Nostradamus is not the Nostradamus, although he is his nephew.
    • Nick Bottom, Portia, and Shylock all share names with characters from Shakespeare's works. It's implied with the prior two that Shakespeare appropriated their names and it's outright stated with the latter. Shakespeare's own mole name, "Toby Belch" is shared by a drunken, boorish man from Twelfth Night.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Other than Shakespeare, none of the characters speak with English accents.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • Saw "Star Wars" 27 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 repurposing it for Hamlet.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Almost every sentence from Brother Jeremiah.
    "I will smack you Bottoms!"
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Nick's song "God, I Hate Shakespeare" is basically "The reason Shakespeare sucks: The musical number".
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Nostradamus envisions the Nazis playing a large role in a future musical (The Sound of Music) 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."
  • Women Are Wiser: Bea has way more common sense than Nick, which Nigel lampshades.
    "You should listen to her. She's usually right."
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