Some guy from the sticks named William Shakespeare is writing plays that are all the rage, while two way more talented brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, struggle to get their work onto the stage.
They consult a soothsayer to discover the next theatrical fad so they can gain an advantage. He tells them it's something called a "musical."
And off the Bottom boys go to create the first play where actors break into song. They call it "Omelette."
If that scenario strikes you as something rotten, you may think twice after seeing "Something Rotten!" The musical, which wrapped up a Broadway run on Jan. 1 after 742 performances, is on a national tour that makes a stop this week at the Hippodrome Theatre.
Like the show's plot, a pair of siblings helped create the musical: Karey Kirkpatrick, a screenwriter whose credits include "Chicken Run" and co-writing "Charlotte's Web" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"; and songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick, who co-wrote the Grammy Award-winning "Change the World" and penned many a song for the country group Little Big Town.
"Wayne and I wish we could pinpoint the eureka moment when we first got the idea for 'Something Rotten!' but it was so long ago," says Karey Kirkpatrick. "We think it was around 1995. I think it came out of the fact that we're both history buffs."
And fans of Monty Python.
"We started to wonder what would it be like to be writers in the shadow of Shakespeare in Tudor times," Karey Kirkpatrick says. "We would amuse ourselves with anachronistic jokes, influenced by 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' and 'Life of Brian,' which take a very wry approach to historical events."
For years, the Louisiana-born brothers would riff on their idea when they got together. They would imagine Shakespeare being represented by the law firm of Rosen, Crantz and Guildenstern, for example. And they would keep refining the crucial notion of the Bottom brothers consulting a seer about theater's future.
"That was one of our earliest jokes — an outsider explaining the conventions of a musical, where an actor will just start singing out of nowhere, " Karey Kirpatrick says. "And then having someone sing the line, 'That is the stupidest idea that I ever heard.'"
One brother hit on a notion, such as having the character of the soothsayer be Nostradamus. But a little research uncovered the fact that the famed prognosticator died a couple years after Shakespeare was born.
"OK, so he could be a nephew," Karey Kirkpatrick says. "That would be funnier — he'd be named Thomas Nostradamus."
As the jokes gradually jelled into the makings of a theater piece, Wayne Kirkpatrick tried writing a few songs for the show.
"I played for Karey a germ on an idea," he says. "It would become the opening song in 'Something Rotten!,' called 'Welcome to the Renaissance.' It had a little bit of a '70s thing in it. Karey said, 'Well, that doesn't sound like Sondheim.' I told him I'm not Sondheim. But the next day, he still had the songs in his head."
For the brothers, both now in their 50s, "Something Rotten!" represents much more than an extended joke.
"The thing about our show is that it really is a love letter to musical theater," Karey Kirkpatrick says. "It pokes fun at the form while being in love with the form."
Love of that form started at a young age.
"Some of my earliest memories are of my parents playing musicals on a turntable," Wayne Kirkpatrick says. "My dad used to sing 'Hello, Dolly' all the time. He had a dog named Dolly. Louisiana was not a mecca for theater culture, but we watched movies made from musicals. I always loved those."
The siblings attended the Baton Rouge Magnet High School and participated fully in its extensive music and theater programs. Right after graduating, they wrote a musical about young people attending a theater workshop, where a big-shot mentor from New York steals their ideas.
"It wasn't very good," says Karey Kirpatrick, who went on to pursue film work and moved to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, his younger brother studied landscape architecture for three years before realizing he had no interest in the field. He wanted to be a songwriter. He headed to Nashville.
"But we shared that love of theater and always knew one day we wanted to work on a musical," Wayne Kirkpatrick says. "We like to say our other careers got into the way."
By 2010, the brothers had put together enough material for "Something Rotten!" to try interesting a producer — a major producer, Kevin McCollum, a prime force in bringing Tony Award winners "Rent, "Avenue Q" and "In the Heights" to the stage.
"I went to film school with him," Karey Kirkpatrick says. "He told me, 'My door is open.' So I called him one day and asked him what did he need to decide on a show. He said that 'Avenue Q' was three songs and an idea at first. I said 'I've got that.' We played five songs for him, and he said, 'I think you got something here.'"
McCollum connected the Kirkpatrick brothers to another key player in the business, director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, whose impressive resume includes winning a Tony for co-directing "The Book of Mormon." Nickolaw would go on to direct and choreograph the Broadway production of "Something Rotten!"
Along the way, British writer John O'Farrell entered the picture to co-write the book for the show with Karey Kirkpatrick. The brothers shared the credit for music and lyrics.
Initial plans to try the musical out first in Seattle were changed when a New York theater opened up in 2015. By this point, there was sufficient buzz around the project, thanks to workshops done with heavy-hitting Broadway actors. The omens looked good.
"It was exciting and terrifying at the same time," Wayne Kirkpatrick says. "We had been talking about and working on this close to 20 years. Seeing the big [advertising] signs for our show in Times Square and seeing the marquee at the St. James Theatre was a very surreal moment."
"Something Rotten!" generated mostly enthusiastic reviews after opening in the spring of 2015, and went on to garner 10 Tony nominations (the single win was for actor Christian Borle, who performed the role of Shakespeare). It closed Jan. 1 of this year.
As for the one big negative notice in the New York Times, Wayne Kirkpatrick takes it in stride.
"Of course, it's hard to have anyone speak negatively about your work," he says. "But so many others seemed to enjoy it for the fun it was meant to be. And the great thing is the review in The Times didn't kill our show. It still stayed around. Would we want it to run as long as 'Phantom [of the Opera]'? Sure. But there are no complaints from us. It did so much for us."
The national tour has been going well, both brothers say.
"It's a really good cast," Karey Kirkpatrick says. "I keep telling people that there is no quality loss from Broadway to the road whatsoever."
Might there be another show in the future from these creative siblings?
"We're tossing around other ideas," Wayne Kirkpatrick says. "As exacting and challenging as it all was, we want to go back in and torture ourselves some more."