To Thine Own Self

Beneath all the mega-meta-wackery of Something Rotten!, the writers have constructed a perfect Hero Myth story, and Nick Bottom goes on a classic Hero's Journey, though it's an interior journey here. All the elements of the Hero Myth are present, though some of those elements are wickedly fucked up.

Nick is the hero of our story, but he's actually an anti-hero, a protagonist who possesses no heroic qualities, like J. Pierpont Finch (How to Succeed). Capt. Macheath (Threepenny Opera), Gordon Schwinn (A New Brain), Harold Hill (The Music Man), Billy Bigelow (Carousel), Bonnie and Clyde, Sweeney Todd, and lots of others.

In keeping with the classic structure, Nick sets out to find enlightenment, but in this case he seeks enlightenment for the wrong reason, only so it will deliver him commercial success; he's really just chasing cash. Nick begins his journey, with his companions, Bea and Nigel, and then Nick meets his Wise Wizard figure, Thomas Nostradamus, though in this case Thomas is a deeply, deliciously flawed Wise Wizard, and so the wisdom he passes along is just as flawed.

Arguably, Shakespeare is Nick's Evil Wizard, pointing Nick the wrong way over and over; and as with many Hero Myths (like Star Wars, for example), when our Hero battles the Evil Wizard, he's really fighting himself. Maybe Thomas is Nick's accidental Evil Wizard, since he gives so much bad information that causes Nick so many problems.

Like every Hero must, Nick has to conquer many obstacles along the way -- including terrible advice from his own Wise Wizard -- in order to finally attain not the enlightenment he seeks, but instead the enlightenment he needs. Nick's greatest obstacle throughout his journey is his own misplaced values, and his inability, over and over, to recognize he's on the wrong road.

Or is it the right road? Is this just the journey Nick needs right now?

There are plenty of conflicts on the surface of this story, but the real conflict at the heart of everything is that Nick has lost the path in his Hero's Journey. Each of us has our own path to follow, our own individual bliss to find, our own Real. But Nick is chasing other people's Real, not his own. He's trying to write what others' want, what others write, rather than what inspires him. But he can't find his Real down somebody else's road.

Nigel's gorgeous song, "To Thine Own Self Be True," speaks to this acting troupe and their creation of theatre, but it also speaks to Nick's journey. He's trying to be Shakespeare, and he has to learn to be Nick. Nigel finds new enlightenment as he navigates all the chaos, but Nick is a half dozen steps behind.

Ultimately, we realize that Thomas Nostradamus isn't the Wise Wizard figure, after all, though he certainly appears like he is. Nick's real Wise Wizard is Nigel. Throughout the show, Nigel repeatedly urges Nick to write about the two of them, but Nick dismisses the idea as boring.

And yet.

Like Passing StrangeSomething Rotten! is built on a meta-theatrical self-referential time loop worthy of the original Planet of the Apes movies. At the end of  the story, Nick, Nigel, and the gang head for America to introduce the New World to Musical Comedy. Which we know will eventually grow and evolve over time, through George M. Cohan and Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim, et al., until some 21st-century artists create a brilliant, mobius strip of a musical like Something Rotten!

Which, by the way, is the musical Nigel keeps pitching -- the story of the Bottom brothers! This show we're watching, Something Rotten! is also the show they're trying to write, and by the end of the show, the show we think they will write. As a musical. About two brothers writing the first musical.

Something Rotten! is its own father. Or great-grandfather, or something. The whole thing is sooooo meta.

The brilliant musical Passing Strange follows a very similar artistic strange loop. In both shows, the protagonists can be real dicks, but it's because both of them are lost, and they both have to find their own paths to find their enlightenment.

Something Rotten! just swims in references, not only to Shakespeare and to musicals, but to us. After all, a Hero's Journey is just a metaphor for a human life. We can all be lazy, thoughtless, stubborn, and we all make terrible mistakes. The trick is to keep evolving, navigate the obstacles, and follow your bliss. And to realize we all stumble along the way, some of us more spectacularly than others.

As we continue to work, we're finding that Something Rotten! is incredibly funny, as we expected, and it's also so much more than that! This isn't a show about jokes or sight gags; it's a show about someone struggling to find their path. Haven't we all been there?

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. Season tickets are on sale now, and single tickets will go on sale at the end of the month. For more info about the show, click here.

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