BWW Interview: Matthew Baker of SOMETHING ROTTEN! at Lied Center For Performing Arts, Lincoln, NE
If you have not heard of SOMETHING ROTTEN! the musical, you soon will. If you have not seen SOMETHING ROTTEN!, you soon should! This crazy, hilarious musical farce is coming to the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska on April 26 and 27. If laughter is good medicine, this is my prescription for everything that ails you.
I spoke with the very charming Matthew Baker who is appearing in the musical as the rockstar of his era, Shakespeare. I was curious to hear his take on the show and what brought him to where he is now.
Baker is an international performer. Born in England, Baker is now a proud New Yorker. He has theatre credits from both the UK and US. His London credits include Sweeney Todd (u/s Tobias) and HAIR (Woof). He has appeared as Tony in the US tour of Saturday Night Fever, at the (Northbrook) Engeman Theatre in Mary Poppins, and in the Disney Cruise Line production of Beauty and the Beast .
if you were to explain to your grandmother what SOMETHING ROTTEN! is all about, what would you tell her?
Well, without giving too much away, the title SOMETHING ROTTEN was used in Hamlet. It's a very small reference that a lot of people won't pick up on. What you find out with this show is that many things go wrong for the lead character, Nick Bottom. He's trying to fend for himself and his family. He's trying to beat the main man at the time. and that's William Shakespeare. He's a playwright himself and he's trying to find that big thing that's going to put him on top and make sure his name goes down in history as the guy who created the first musical.
Did you study Shakespeare in school?
I did, yes. Being brought up in England it's one of those paramount things that you have to study.
Will people who never read Shakespeare get the jokes?
I think so, yeah. There are a lot of mainstream Shakespeare jokes in there. There's a lot of musical entanglement. We introduce the musicals so there are a lot of references from many musicals from across the decades. So, I do believe, as kitschy as this may sound, there is something in there for everyone.
What made you move to the US?
My wife, actually. I met my wife on Royal Caribbean cruise line back in 2011. She's from New York. It was either she come over to London or I move to New York. In the end I made the decision that I was going to come stateside. I never regretted a moment of it.
I'm glad you mentioned cruise ships because I was scrolling through the national tour cast bios and saw that several of you have performed on ship. This might be a controversial question, but do you think it's more valuable to get your MFA in Musical Theatre or to go out there and dive right in?
Honestly, that's a good question. I went to college at 16. Therefore, I left just before my 19th birthday. I didn't want to stay and do all the technical stuff. For me personally as a performer, it has to be practical. I need to gain all that knowledge in my body, and I cannot learn that from a book. Getting out there and getting as much experience in the field you are practicing is the best medicine.
Is it unusual to go to college at age 16 in the UK?
Not in the UK. Especially when you've specified what you want to do. You can come out in three years with your diploma which, I guess, is equivalent to a bachelor's degree. That's why I decided that I didn't want to do anything too studious at that point. It was all in my body.
And you always knew that you wanted to perform?
Pretty much, yeah! I was dancing from the wee age of three. My sister was a dancer and I ended up going to the dance school one day and I never left!
Are there differences in theatre between the UK and US?
In this day and age, there's so much opportunity out there. I've done both the UK and the US. I've done London; I've never done the West End. There are a lot of similarities but there are a lot of differences as well. You know New York is a bigger place. There's only so far you can go in the UK. I think the audience responses are a little different, but that can change here state by state. Just one state is as big as the UK. You can imagine that it's very contained over there. We've definitely seen a lot of different reactions for our show across the US so far. We go to South Korea at the end of the US tour. Who knows what we'll be able to sway the crowds over there with?
It's presented in English, I assume?
It is, absolutely. I don't know with the rights that they are going to translate, but for the most part yes, it's going to be in English.
Are you a funny guy in real life or is this a new skill you have to develop?
(laughs) I think probably my friends would say that I am. But i think a lot of that is because coming over from England a lot of people find me funny anyway, just because of my accent. But yeah, you definitely need a sense of humor to be able to pull off these roles. And everyone plays a different part in this. Some of us play bad guys.... You definitely need some sort of comedic timing at least to pull off the lines we have in the show.
Is you wife involved in theatre as well?
Yeah. She teaches for Disney cruise lines. She's a choreographer for them. She used to be a dancer. Our paths have to go somewhere past performing.
Is there something you would like to add about the show?
Mainly that we've had so much support from our original team. It was pretty much the original team that opened up our first show; not in full, but we've definitely had a lot of input from some of those main guys and the writers. You know, this cast is fantastic. They all literally wear different hats for every single scene. The talent on this stage is just impeccable. It's wonderful to share the stage with them every night.
Performances are April 26, 7:30; April 27, 2:00 and 7:30.
Photo courtesy of SOMETHING ROTTEN! tour.