The last time Rob McClure and Maggie Lakis found themselves in Kansas City, they were two young puppets falling in love.
That was 10 years ago, when the two actors played opposite each other in the first national tour of “Avenue Q” — and, offstage, they were just a few years into their real-life relationship.
Today they’re still playing opposite each other, but things have changed a bit. Now married, McClure and Lakis are playing a married couple for the first time onstage in the Shakespearean musical comedy “Something Rotten!” Seven months into the tour, which stops at Starlight Theatre July 25-30, they’ve found their new roles hit a little closer to home than they expected.
In this skewering of theater, musical theater and Shakespeare alike, they play Nick and Bea Bottom, who live in the height of Shakespeare’s popularity in 1595. Nick and brother Nigel, jealous of the Bard’s success, decide to add a twist to his popular methods: creating the first musical.
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Says McClure: “I’m closer to Nick than I care to admit in terms of, ‘Sweetie, listen: I’ve got this, I’ll figure it out,’ and her going, ‘Hey, jerk, I’m capable of helping; let me help you.’ So our relationship is closer to us than I thought when I first started this gig. It’s a weird thing to look back on your careers together and see them kind of growing up with you.”
The idea for “Something Rotten!” came from brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick in 1995, although it took until 2010 to get rolling. The brothers wrote the music and lyrics and brought in British comedic author and script writer John O’Farrell to co-write the musical’s book with Karey. The show hit Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards.
O’Farrell said that as the token British creative, he had some specific things to add.
“In terms of the setting and the history, there were occasions where I would assert my local and historical knowledge,” O’Farrell wrote in an email. “When Karey had Shakespeare eating a turkey leg, I said ‘A turkey? In Tudor England? No, he’s eating a goose leg.’ And it became a bit of a joke with our Shakespeare: ‘What is that leg you are holding?’ I would ask him. ‘Goose, definitely. Not turkey. Look, I am acting goose-tasting; turkey-tasting would be completely different.’ ”
Rightly, Shakespeare and the theater traditions he began are the focus of this show. Expect Renaissance costuming (which will provide a challenge for the actors playing the show for the first time in an outside venue) and setting but with a contemporary humor and even some 1960s dance moves.
The Shakespeare is the butt of most of the jokes — as well as musical theater and theater of all kinds. But you don’t need to be versed in theater to enjoy the show; O’Farrell and Karey took care to include the most iconic references.
“We definitely didn’t want this to be the sort of show that left people feeling stupid (like I feel when I go and see Shakespeare and other audience members laugh at the ‘jokes’),” O’Farrell wrote.
It was this smart humor that originally drove McClure to the Broadway show, where he took over for original cast member Brian D’Arcy James. When he got the offer to continue on with the show on tour, it was a happy coincidence that Lakis auditioned for the touring role of Bea at the same time.
“It’s kind of everything that you’d want out of a musical comedy,” Lakis said. “It has the big cast, it has the big dance numbers — amazing dancing, beautiful costumes, beautiful lights, great music. Who wouldn’t want a chance to be a part of something like that?”
Now almost halfway through the tour, McClure and Lakis have adjusted back to touring life. They’re used to being around each other a fair amount, but touring takes it to a new level.
“You really do have to get along to be able to do this — not only just being married but touring life in general, because if you’re in the Broadway company, when the show comes down at night, everybody goes home,” McClure said. “With the tour, you are traveling together, eating together, at the same hotels, you go to work together. With Maggie and I, it’s fun just to see her play this role and bring this character to life.”
Not to mention that they get to see the country together, with their cat and “tour mascot” Nico along for the ride.
“When you come home at night, he’s curled up and it just feels like home, no matter where you are,” Lakis said.
“Something Rotten!” runs July 25-30 at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road. See kcstarlight.com or call 816-363-7827.