An Interview with Casey Nicholaw, Director & Choreographer of Something Rotten!

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Elf BoxThere is something special about Something Rotten! Its score is magnificent, and its premise hilarious—its 10 Tony Award® nominations are a testament to this fact. But beyond that, there is something, or perhaps someone, that has helped unpack, explore and present its artistic brilliance; someone who has a knack for directing and choreographing original musical hits. That person is Casey Nicholaw.

A well-respected and renowned director, performer and choreographer, Nicholaw’s directing credits include Spamalot, Book of Mormon, Aladdin and Elf the Musical. His work features an impressive range of original musicals, and Something Rotten! is his most recent adventure.

After spending several years as one of the most in-demand dancers, singers and actors on Broadway, Nicholaw decided to pursue work as a choreographer and director. His first professional jobs were right here at The 5th Avenue Theatre as the choreographer for two productions in the early 2000s—the new musical The Prince And The Pauper in our 2001/02 Season and our spectacular rendition of My Fair Lady in our 2002/03 Season. These shows were the start of a brilliant career that included returning to The 5th to direct and choreograph the World Premiere of Disney’s Aladdin. His work has also been seen on our stage in our productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Whether it’s an original musical or a production anchored to source material, the best musical theater directors, choreographers, lyricists and composers pick and choose which projects to work on, which are the most interesting and compelling to them as an artist. Each show is different and unique and appeals to different artists in different ways.

“For me, it has to be smart writing. That’s the most important thing, because it’s also easier to stage. Something that has a buoyancy to it, and also a lot of heart. That’s what I like most.”

Casey Nicholaw had worked previously with Tony®-winning producer Kevin McCollum, and it was this relationship that would facilitate the meeting between Nicholaw, John O’Farrell (Something Rotten! bookwriter), Karey Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten! bookwriter, composer and lyricist) and Wayne Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten! composer and lyricist).

“It sort of started with Kevin, just because of our relationship, and then we met with Karey, Wayne and John, and they sort of knew what they were going to do, but it wasn’t written yet. I saw three songs and two scenes. But I loved their take, and they were so passionate about it, so I said, ‘Sign me up.’ I loved the idea of the story and where it could go.”

Although Nicholaw and McCollum were familiar with the world of Broadway, John O’Farrell and the Kirkpatricks— although greatly successful and experienced in their fields—were new to Broadway and musical theater. But this fact, which might be of concern to any other renowned director, was not a problem for Nicholaw.

“They’re complete musical theater nerds anyway. So they already loved it and were very well versed in all of it. They had to learn the nuts and bolts of things, but their instincts were really good. I just think they’re funny, and that’s the most important thing. They’re clever. Their lyrics are really good. They’re very talented, but funny trumps everything.”

As the four of them began working together, the show started to develop and take shape, resulting in an hilarious script and delightful, toe-tapping score. One song in particular stands out as a clear sign of a creative team in sync. Titled “A Musical,” it lovingly parodies musical theater and form, paying homage to classics such as South Pacific, Anything Goes, Annie and many others. The lyrics are a series of Easter egg references for the musical theater nerds in the audience, while the showstopping choreography leaves all audience members in stitches.

“I knew it had to build and build and build. When Glen Kelly, our dance arranger, went to town–I’ve worked with him on a bunch of shows now, and when we started in pre-production, he’d go away and start writing dance music. He’s the one who came back with all the references. I really wasn’t sure at first, I thought it might be too in-jokey. But once we started playing with it, the dancers were like, ‘Oh my god, are you kidding? We have to do this.’ It ended up working well.”

Something Rotten! is at The 5th Avenue Theatre from September 12 to October 1. To find out more and purchase tickets, click here.


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