FRESNO — Something’s rotten at the Saroyan Theatre — but that’s a good thing for lovers of musicals of infinite jest.
The hit musical “Something Rotten!,” which opened on Broadway in 2015, subsequently earning 10 Tony Award nominations, stops in the Central Valley for two performances tonight and tomorrow.
Set in the 1590s, the musical that New York Magazine compared to “The Producers” and “Book of Mormon” tells the story of two playwright brothers who live in the shadow of the theater’s biggest rock star — William Shakespeare.
In order to get a little of spotlight for themselves, the brothers invent a new style of theater — the musical.
The Sentinel recently caught up with actor Matthew Baker, who plays Shakespeare, to discuss the show, its historical accuracy — or lack thereof — and how he spends his free time while touring America.
Sentinel: Being based in New York but originally from England, what are some of the differences in terms of theater culture in the two locations?
Baker: Mostly I feel that there is a much bigger range of theatre goers in the US due to such variation from state to state. Although I feel London has outside visitors, New York attracts a much wider crowd from the world and not just the rest of the US. That I believe is also correct for this current tour. We will never have the same crowd twice!
Sentinel: How long have you been traveling with “Something Rotten!”?
Baker: The show has been on the road since September 2018 and we finish in the US in May. We then head to Seoul, South Korea to finish our run in June.
Sentinel: Were you a Shakespeare fan before being cast as The Bard? Have you done any Shakespearian acting?
Baker: I have always been partial to writing my own poetry and music and I think a lot of my inspiration stems from Shakespearean language and stories. At college I studied Shakespeare but never got the opportunity to perform in a set play. I would soon jump at the chance though!
Sentinel: Even considering the farcical (and non-biographical) tone of “Something Rotten!”, how do you prepare for the role of Shakespeare -- perhaps the greatest figure in theater history?
Baker: Honestly, with this particular portrayal of The Bard it is rather tough to say that there is a preparation so to speak. He is very much modernized in the show but his legacy of genius flows through the dialogue although maybe a little far-fetched in character!
Sentinel: What's your favorite number in the musical?
Baker: I would have to say the opening number which I make a brief entrance in, would be my favorite number in the show. It sets us in good stead of explaining that this is a current-day translation of a Renaissance world as we transform from a whimsical medieval tune to a head banging beat!
Sentinel: Given that “Something Rotten!” is a newer musical, how is performing it as opposed to something you've done like “Sweeney Todd” or “Saturday Night Fever,” that have longer histories with which audiences may have preconceived notions?
Baker: We definitely have mixed audiences in terms of people that have seen the show, heard about it, listened to the soundtrack or just plain have no idea whatsoever. It’s what keeps us performers on our toes every night. Similarly we don’t know what to expect from our crowds which makes our comedy and line timing even more crucial and fun to play with.
Sentinel: What do you like to do to unwind when offstage while on tour?
Baker: I am a personal trainer and heavily involved with fitness so I use my downtime in the gym mostly. I also dabble in writing and try to catch up with my favorite TV shows too!