When the musical Something Rotten makes its Northwest premiere at the 5th Avenue Theatre this month, you will excuse David Armstrong for feeling a wee bit parental about the touring company’s long-awaited arrival.
The 5th Avenue Theatre workshopped Something Rotten in 2014 and scheduled its world premiere — aka pre-Broadway tryout — on the 5th Avenue stage in 2015. But the sudden closure of a show on Broadway created an opening that put Something Rotten on a fast track to NYC and wide critical acclaim.
After 742 performances, the Broadway production closed in January, giving way to a national tour that opens the 5th Avenue Theatre’s 2017-18 season. The show, by John O’Farrell and siblings Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, centers on two brothers trying to outdo “that Renaissance rock star” William Shakespeare by writing the world’s first musical in 1595.
Since 2001, the 5th Avenue has created and premiered 18 new works. Nine have made it to Broadway, including Hairspray (eight Tony Awards), Memphis (four Tony Awards) and Shrek the Musical (one Tony Award). Armstrong, the executive producer and artistic director at the 5th Avenue, turns philosophical on what might have been the 10th musical to have had its premiere at the 5th before heading to Broadway. “You can’t be involved in creation without some flexibility,” he says, “but we are thrilled that this show is rightly going to be on our stage at last to open next season.”
Despite 10 Tony nominations in 2015, Something Rotten came away emptyhanded. True to the show’s nature of not taking anything too seriously, the producers promptly went on Facebook to boast: “Loser! Best Musical! 2015 Tony Award.” The post noted that Something Rotten was in excellent company and listed 13 other shows — including West Side Story — that had failed to win Best Musical.
This zany irreverence created the excitement that catapulted Something Rotten to Broadway in the first place and caused New York Magazine to describe it as “The Producers + The Book of Mormon x The Drowsy Chaperone. Squared!”
Armstrong is only too happy to claim “a piece of ownership” in the production. “New musicals are at the center of our mission,” he says. “That’s how we perpetuate this great American art form.”
September 12–October 1.
5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle. 206.625.1900; 5thavenue.org.