Something rotten is coming to Evanston.

Not something rotten, as in unpleasant or foul.

Rather, this something rotten is “Something Rotten!,” as in the musical comedy which ran for two years on Broadway in New York (2015-17), and will be Northwestern University’s first live -with-an-audience student performance in the Barber Theater since the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down two years ago.

Shows are Feb. 10-13, and 17-20.

“Opening night is going to be very electric,” says Peter Carroll, an NU senior who portrays a singing and dancing William Shakespeare.

“The energy will be higher than ever,” adds Sean Zuckerman. “We’re so pumped about it.”

Zuckerman, also a senior, plays Nick Bottom, a Shakespeare rival in Renaissance England.

“Something Rotten!” is the farcical and totally-made-up story of how the world’s first musical came to be, in 1595.

“Something Rotten!” shows the battle between a conniving but also insecure Shakespeare, and the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, who compete with the Bard as theatrical writers and producers.

The plot, such as it is, is less important than what Caroll (Shakespeare) describes as “two-and-a-half hours of pure entertainment, with a lot of dancing and fast-paced musical numbers.”

Many of the two-dozen student performers have had the showbiz bug since early childhood, and the chance to act in a multiple-Tony Award nominated show is a thrill, not to mention a step up the career ladder.

Musical theater is “100 percent my career goal,” says Zuckerman.

Zuckerman has been following that path since fourth grade.

“I was the Beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast,'” he says of an elementary school performance.

Carroll was in “Annie” at age ten, and saw “The Book of Mormon” in New York when he was 12.

“As a kid, Broadway was unreal,” he recalls.

But whether it’s early on or in college, there are definite challenges to putting on a musical.

These days, one of those challenges is singing through a mask, at least during rehearsal.

Thanks to COVID-19 mitigation protocols, the actors are masked during rehearsals, and while offstage. (The actual performances, however, will be maskless).

The actors are COVD-tested three times a week, and instead of just having an understudy for specific roles in case a performer is out, this show has “swing” members of the cast who can take over a variety of parts.

Rory Pelsue, the New York-based guest director, says “it’s not easy to put on a show in the midst of a pandemic.”

But Pelsue says the student-actors have been incredible, committed to both “the love of the art form and of theater in general.”

The Barber Theater is inside the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, and is a partial theater-in-the-round, appropriate for a setting in Shakespeare’s day. (While this is the first COVID-era live play at Barber, there was another live show in a different theater in Wirtz last fall).

As the actors in NU’s “Something Rotten” sing, dance, and act their way through this show, they definitely have someone they can keep in mind as an inspiration.

Northwestern graduate Brian D’Arcy James (NU ’90) starred in the same musical on Broadway, as Nick Bottom, and was nominated for a Tony Award.

“I look up to Brian D’Arcy James,” says Zuckerman, who is playing the same role here.

“Something Rotten!?” Sure. But also, something cool.

For information on tickets, go to wirtz.northwestern.edu. Masks are required for audience members, along with either proof of COVID vaccination, or proof of a negative COVID test within the 48 hours before the show.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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