You’ve studied Shakespeare? Not this Shakespeare. Not sober, anyway. Thrusting and gyrating like Keith Richards channeling Johnny Depp and dipped in Gene Simmons, while chasing fame like an Elizabethan-era Kardashian, ex-Rent star Adam Pascal turns the Bard into quite the card (of Avon) in whacked-out musical satire Something Rotten, coming to the Smith Center August 8.
Pascal portrays the oh-so-stuffy historical figure gone gonzo as the object of envy of two brothers hell-bent for theatrical recognition in the shadow of his explosive success. Comic misunderstandings and screwball antics—including a Hamlet knockoff titled “Omelette: The Musical”—ensue in this bracingly original concoction. Pascal explains his Bard-iology.
Your Shakespeare is a rock star, belting out crowd-pleasers “It’s Hard to Be the Bard” and “Will Power.” How did you approach the role? There’s Tim Curry’s performance from Rocky Horror in there, there’s Freddy Mercury, there’s David Lee Roth. But he’s also an arrogant goofball, so there’s Monty Python-esque stylings, Stewie Griffin from Family Guy, Kramer from Seinfeld. The delivery of the material made me think of these characters, and it became infused into the performance.
What attracted you to a role that portrays Shakespeare as a strutting peacock? There’s such reverence to Shakespeare, but lots of poetic license because nobody knows what he was like. To humanize him where he becomes cartoonish is an exciting concept. Go down deeper, there are insecurities and petty jealousies driving him—not the desire to create something wonderful, but to be known for creating something wonderful.
Does that reflect contemporary pop culture, where people just want fame for fame’s sake? Exactly. In Shakespeare’s solo numbers, the first one is him in all his rock-star glory, and then he’s explaining he doesn’t care about how he gets famous, he just wants to be famous. Writing these incredibly dense plays takes a lot of work—more than he’s willing to give.
Is your portrayal payback for having to learn Shakespearean dialogue as an actor? I didn’t grow up studying acting, so I wasn’t exposed, except having to read a few of his plays in high school. I’ve never been in any Shakespeare plays. I’m a total ignoramus of Shakespeare.
You took over the role from other actors. How challenging is that? I prefer it to creating roles. You put a lot of time and effort into creating a role, and you may win a Tony or not; the show may be a hit or close after a month. I just want a job to last a nice chunk of time and get paid every week. I don’t have to worry about being nominated or not. The road is littered with unemployed Tony winners.