The musical began with an idea that brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick had since the 1990s. They finally joined with John O’Farrell to write several songs and presented those songs and a treatment to the producer Kevin McCollum in 2010. The team then joined with Casey Nicholaw, who brought in several of the actors, resulting in the workshop in 2014.
Something Rotten! was expected to have a pre-Broadway tryout at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle, in April 2015. However, when a Broadway theatre became available, Kevin McCollum decided to open the show without the Seattle tryout. "David Armstrong, artistic director of 5th Avenue Theater, said...that after the positive buzz surrounding the musical’s workshop in October , he and Mr. McCollum began discussing the possibility of the show bypassing Seattle in favor of Broadway." The developmental lab took place in New York City in October 2014 with Casey Nicholaw as director and choreographer.
Something Rotten! opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre in previews on March 23, 2015, and officially opened on April 22, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, with the sets designed by Scott Pask, costumes by Gregg Barnes and lighting by Jeff Croiter. The Broadway production closed on January 1, 2017 after 742 performances.
The show launched a U.S. national tour in 2017. The tour began previews at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, New York on January 10, 2017, before officially opening at the Boston Opera House on January 17. The tour cast features Rob McClure (Nick Bottom), Adam Pascal (Shakespeare) and Josh Grisetti (Nigel Bottom).
In the 1590s, at the end of the Renaissance, William Shakespeare is a rock god known as "The Bard". The Minstrel welcomes the audience to the period and tells about the inventions, accomplishments, and customs of the time with the help of the company ("Welcome to the Renaissance"). He tells us that "not everybody is getting what he wants", referring to Nick Bottom, who runs a theatre troupe with his brother Nigel. They are rehearsing for their upcoming play "Richard II", while Shakespeare is opening Romeo and Juliet. Lord Clapham, a patron who trusts the brothers and raises funds for their troupe, comes in to announce that Shakespeare is doing "Richard II". The news outrages Nick, as Shakespeare has already done "Richard III", and the thought of going backwards seems absurd to him. He rants about his hatred of Shakespeare to the troupe members, who are horrified ("God, I Hate Shakespeare"). Lord Clapham leaves, telling the brothers he is cutting them off unless they have another play by "the morrow".
Nigel and Nick go home to their small house, and on the way Nick encounters Shylock the Jew. Shylock expresses a desire to help fund the troupe, but Nick tells him Shylock's Jewishness would be illegal. Bea, Nick's wife, tells them the events of her day and how she acquired their dinner as she serves it to them. They are saving up for a better life, and when Nick tries to open the Money Box, Bea smacks his hand away. Bea tells him how she could help them out in the troupe or in anything ("Right Hand Man"). Despite Nick's arguments, Bea goes out to do things that Nick claims are for men. As Nigel sleeps, Nick faces the real reason he hates Shakespeare: "The Bard" makes Nick feel self-conscious ("God, I Hate Shakespeare (Reprise)"). He wishes there was a way to top Shakespeare, and steals from the Money Box to see a soothsayer. He finds a soothsayer named Thomas Nostradamus, but just Nostradamus, not the Nostradamus, his uncle, a famous soothsayer. Nick asks him what the next big thing in theatre will be, and Nostradamus says that it will be "A Musical", a play where "an actor is saying his lines, and out of nowhere he just starts singing...." Nick thinks it is ridiculous but soon realizes how amazing it could be ("A Musical").
Later, Nick meets up with Nigel on the street, where Nigel meets Portia, a Puritan and the daughter of Brother Jeremiah. They immediately click. Nick tells him that he shouldn't pursue her because she is a Puritan. The Puritans leave and Nick tells Nigel what the soothsayer said, but neglects to tell him that it was not Nick's own idea. Nigel wants to do "The Brothers from Cornwall", the story of the two brothers' lives, but Nick declines it and says it has to be bigger, and decides to do "The Black Death". Lord Clapham watches the troupe perform the title song. He hates it and deserts the troupe.
Nigel sits down to try to write a new play. Portia sneaks out to see him, and they discover more about their similarities ("I Love the Way"). An invitation arrives for Nigel to "Shakespeare in the Park" and an after-party. Portia asks how he got it and he tells her that he sent one of his sonnets to The Bard for feedback. Nigel asks the messenger if Portia can be his "plus one".
In the park, Shakespeare performs for the people ("Will Power"). Nigel and Portia go to the after party, where Portia gets drunk. Shakespeare asks to read Nigel's journal of poems and writings, but Nick runs in and yells at the Bard for trying to steal Nigel's work, and at Nigel for being so naive and going to Shakespeare's party. Brother Jeremiah also runs in to find a drunk Portia and once again admonishes Nigel and her.
In a funk, Nick goes back to Nostradamus with what he has left of the money he stole from the Money Box. He asks Nostradamus to tell him what Shakespeare's new hit is going to be, and Nostradamus sees "Hamlet", but pronounces it wrong as "Omelet". He also sees that the main character as a Danish prince, but only the Danish part, which Nick takes to mean Danish pastry. He gets excited at the possibilities of his future and dreams of what it will be like, and in his fantasy crowds cheer for him and he has an argument with Shakespeare, which he wins and Shakespeare bows down to him ("Bottom's Gonna Be on Top").
The Minstrel welcomes us back and tells us of the stress that the Bottom brothers and Shakespeare are facing ("Welcome to the Renaissance (Reprise)"). We see into the life of Shakespeare and his stress firsthand ("Hard to Be the Bard"). A spy tells him that the brothers are trying to steal Shakespeare's new hit. Shakespeare is trying to find an idea for a new play, so he immediately jumps at the chance to find out what his new hit is going to be. He decides to disguise himself as "Toby Belch" and audition for the brothers' troupe.
Meanwhile, the troupe is practicing for "Omelette: The Musical" ("It's Eggs!"). Shylock has become their new investor, and Nick says that he is the guy who produces the money for the show to be produced. They cannot find a title for him, though. When some of the actors become suspicious of Nostradamus and why he is at their theatre, Nick does not want to reveal that he is a soothsayer, so he lies and says that Nostradamus is an actor. Shakespeare, as "Toby Belch", arrives at the theatre and is hired for the company. He is surprised to learn that his hit is about eggs.
Nigel sneaks out to London Bridge to see Portia, where he reads her another poem about his love for her. He worries about their future together, but Portia reassures him by saying that everyone, even Nick and Brother Jeremiah, will change their minds about their relationship when they hear Nigel's beautiful words ("We See the Light"). Nigel is not very happy with "Omelette" and claims that it doesn't feel right. Brother Jeremiah interrupts the lovers and takes Portia away to be shut up in a tower for her disobedience. Saddened by the loss of his love, Nigel becomes inspired to write a completely different play that is revealed to be Hamlet.
Nigel goes into the theatre the next day and tells Nick that "Omelette: The Musical" doesn't feel right to him and that he has started writing other things. They get into a large argument and Shakespeare tries to take advantage of their squabble to get his hit ("To Thine Own Self").
On the street, Nigel is feeling bad when Bea finds him and tells him that they should still trust Nick because they can always fall on him if they need ("Right Hand Man" (Reprise)).
Nick is having qualms about "Omelette: The Musical" as well, but he learns that the town lined up all the way around the theatre for tickets. He and the troupe prepare for the show ("Something Rotten!"). They perform a big dance number that has many references to modern-day musicals ("Make an Omelette"). Towards the end of the number, Shakespeare strays from the script and takes off his "Toby Belch" disguise, and then sues the brothers. The troupe and Nigel find out that Nostradamus is a soothsayer, and they are all horrified.
At the courtroom, Shylock, Nick, Nigel, and Nostradamus are being tried and Nick is sentenced to be beheaded. Bea comes in, disguised as a lawyer, and makes Nick confess that he stole from the Money Box, and tells the judge that beheading him would be redundant because he has already lost his head. She has made a deal with Shakespeare that they will be exiled to America ("To Thine Own Self" (Reprise)). She says that they always wanted a new country house and they are getting a house in a new country. Portia then arrives, having escaped the tower. She renounces her father's ideals and joins the Bottoms, Shylock, and Nostradamus in exile. They arrive in America and tell the audience of the new opportunities in the New World ("Finale"). Nick hears about the opening of Shakespeare's new masterpiece, Hamlet, to which Nostradamus replies "I was this close".
Ghostlight Records released the Original Broadway Cast Album of Something Rotten! on June 2, 2015 in digital music stores and July 17, 2015 on CD.
In the recording, "Something Rotten!" and "Make an Omelette" are combined into one track because of the brevity of the former.
The show includes references to numerous musicals. For example, during the song “A Musical,” "Nostradamus and the chorus men don sailor hats, which harkens to several nautical-themed musicals, including South Pacific, Anything Goes, On the Town and Dames at Sea." The TheaterMania reviewer noted that the song "A Musical", "...encapsulates the entire book-musical form in six hilarious minutes. It's so chock-full of witty references and energetic dance; it's hard to see how it could be topped." Variety also pointed out that the song "A Musical" "simultaneously celebrates and sends up everything we hold dear about this peculiar art form, from the 'jazzy hands' of Bob Fosse to the synchronized line dancing of the Rockettes."The Producers
The Phantom of the Opera
West Side Story
Lady Be Good
Little Shop of Horrors
The Lion King
Sunday in the Park with George
Guys and Dolls
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Fiddler on the Roof
The Sound of Music
On the Town
Jesus Christ Superstar
The Music Man
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
A Chorus Line
Into the Woods
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Romeo and Juliet
Much Ado About Nothing
The Merchant of Venice
As You Like It
The original casts are as follows: