Adam Pascal is no stranger to iconic roles, having originated roles in Rent and Aida on Broadway, and stepped the role of the Emcee in Cabaret. He is now portraying an icon of a different sort: William Shakespeare in the national tour of Something Rotten!, which begins its two-week stint at DC’s National Theatre this week.
Something Rotten! is the 2015 Tony Award-nominated musical that spoofs the very notion of musicals. Here’s the story: Struggling playwright Nick Bottom is tired of living in Shakespeare’s shadow so he does what any desperate Rennaissance playwright would do: he consults a soothsayer! The soothsayer predicts that in the future plays will contain singing and dancing (often at the same time!), that people will break out into song (for no reason at all!) and that people will love it. Of course, reading the future is always a hazy business so the answers often come back a delightful misinterpreted mess.
Pascal plays a satirically sexy version of William Shakespeare, an egomaniacal rock star of writing who leaves girls gasping in their corsets when he arrives on the scene to sing “It’s Hard to Be the Bard.”
Something Rotten! Is about as tongue-in-cheek as a musical can get so we thought it would be fun to tap into the spirit of the musical with some tongue-in-cheek questions for Adam Pascal.
Shakespeare’s show-stopping number in Something Rotten! is an Elvis-like performance of a song called “It’s Hard to Be the Bard.” Is it, in fact, hard to be the Bard?
Not at all! It’s actually one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t have been able to be out on the road and away from my family for this long [since January 2017] if I didn’t really enjoy it. I love the people that I work and it is great to be able to make people laugh.
What do you most enjoy about tapping into the humor of Something Rotten?
I love the almost “slapstickean” style of the comedy. The show has always reminded me of a cross between Monty Python and Mel Brooks. It has elements of both of those things, both of which I grew up watching. I’m a pretty silly person in real life and that really works for this character. I love making him be silly.
Wait a second, I thought this was supposed to be super-sexy-Shakespeare? How do you achieve silly and sexy at the same time?
Well, he’s wearing a tight leather outfit, so the sexy part is already there. You don’t need to spoon feed it to the audience. It’s the comic elements that need to be played up. Honestly, I don’t even think I would know how to “try” to be sexy. Like, if a director ordered me to “be sexy now!” I would overdo it and make it ridiculous.
Ok, so he’s a goofy hunk in sexy clothing?
Right. The fun part for me is tapping into the comedy. I never intentionally emulate any comedic performances from the past, but every so often I will say a line and remind myself of Stewie Griffin from Family Guy, or Newman from Seinfeld or a character from Caddyshack. All characters that have made me giggle.
Something Rotten! spoofs so many famous musicals: A Chorus Line, Les Miserables, Annie, etc. What gets the biggest reaction from the audience?
There are so many musicals referenced and they are all part of the great history of musical theater. The references are so cleverly embedded in the show but certain numbers really pop out. Cats gets a huge reaction, probably because of how it’s staged.
Do the audiences on the road get those references to the same degree that a New York audience would?
It really depends on where you are! We definitely get different reactions from audiences in different cities. But you don’t have to be well-read or a musical theater scholar to get this show.
Ok, total non-sequitur, but I want to hear one cool story about your time on Broadway. What’s your favorite memory from starring in Rent or Aida?
Just one!? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that I was doing Aida when September 11th happened. September 11th was on a Tuesday and we were ordered to perform that Thursday. At first, we were all really upset to be called in to perform during this national tragedy. But then it turned out to be so cathartic for us and for the audience. Only a few hundred people showed up that night and you could tell they were so grateful to have a break from the real world.
That was also Idina Menzel’s first performance as Amneris. She was supposed to start on September 11th so her first performance ended up being on this crazy night. She and I have been friends since childhood and were obviously in Rent together, so it was great to go through that with her.
After the show, we sang “America the Beautiful” with the audience and everyone was crying. It was a really great experience.
And now your job is to make people laugh!
Oh yeah, and we have plenty of fun ourselves. This cast is really my second family by this point. A number of our cast members have spouses and children with them. It’s very familial in that way. It’s a real joy to take this show across the country because it is so much fun and people love it.