In the new Broadway musical Something Rotten!, B
Here, James dishes on which of the show’s jokes goes over best and why he doesn’t share his character’s taste in theater.
For a while there, you were rehearsing Something Rotten! and also starring in the Off-Broadway production of Hamilton. That’s a busy schedule.
That was a crazy time. I was doing both shows at the once; it has been been quite a rich couple of months.
You’re probably the only person alive who’s doing eight shows a week and feels like it’s slow.
How did you end up in this show?
I have worked with the producer, Kevin McMollum, a couple of times before and he is a friend of mine and also a colleague and I’ve also worked with Casey Nicholaw, the director. There was, as the show developed, the need for people to come in and fill the roles for a four-week workshop in the fall, and that was my first crack at it.
Was it then that you got hooked on playing Nick Bottom?
I’ll tell you, it’s a combination of the role and the show, because what really appealed to me was the overarching idea of a fun, funny musical comedy. And then of course the idea of playing the role, the more I started doing it in the workshop, I realized that it was a great part with great music, which was a very appealing thing to tackle.
The show’s got a lot of humor, some of it broad and some more niche—there’s a song that is practically all jokes about the history of musicals. Does everything seem to land with the audience?
To be honest, there’s rolling laughter. It really doesn’t stop. People maybe not understanding every single reference, but what’s important about the show is there’s a very simple story that has nothing to do with references to musicals. And the story is about a guy who’s trying to be successful so he can take care of his family—his brother, his wife and his child on the way. And he’s doing whatever he has to do.
Your character’s an outspoken critic of Shakespeare. How do you yourself feel about him?
He’s so easy to hate because his work is so incredible intimidating, especially from an actors point of view. But the truth is that I love Shakespeare. I haven’t done a lot of it—I get a kick out of the fact that my last Broadway credit was doing Macbeth at the Lincoln Center—but I’ve always been a fan of it. What’s fun for me is working on [Nick’s] own jealousy and his own feelings of coming up short, and that’s what’s fueling it. And the fact that he and Shakespeare are colleagues, and he has to kind of suffer through this guy’s wild success where he doesn’t think is necessarily earned makes me laugh.
You’re on stage for most of the show. What’s your favorite bit to perform?
I always look forward to coming near the end of the show when Nick puts on the show that he thinks is going to be the quintessential musical. It’s so absurd. I just love it. Getting to do that and knowing that my character’s so confident about what he thinks is going to be a hit for generations to come, it’s great because it’s so ridiculous. I revel in that.