Theatre Lawrence to wrap up season with new executive director’s debut: ‘Something Rotten!’ — an homage to practically every musical ever

photo by: Mike Yoder

Alan Martin, center, playing Nick Bottom, rehearses with the cast of "Something Rotten!" at Theatre Lawrence.

So many people wanted to be in “Something Rotten!” — Theatre Lawrence’s season finale — that an extra night of auditions had to be scheduled.

That didn’t surprise Jamie Ulmer too much.

After all, Ulmer, the theater’s new executive director, has been in show business for 25 years; he knows how strong the pull of a catchy musical can be for folks itching to sing and dance.

And “Something Rotten!” — a comedic farce set in Elizabethan England — exerts an especially strong pull, he said, because of its big dance numbers, memorable tunes and sweeping tribute to musical theater.

“There are so many musical references and homages,” Ulmer said — so many, in fact, that he challenged the cast to add up all of the show’s allusions to famous musicals, “but we couldn’t keep an accurate count; there’s just so many of them.”

“Rotten” writers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick in their 2015 hit, which was nominated for 10 Tonys, make nods — some obvious, some not — to “Annie,” “Les Miserables,” “West Side Story,” “The Music Man” and “A Chorus Line,” to name just a few.

“Each night during rehearsals, we’ll discover some new reference,” Ulmer said — a nuanced lyric, a subtle play on words, a suggestive character name.

“Theater people know the show … and they know the music,” he said, “and they want to be part of it.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Jamie Ulmer, left, is the new director of Theatre Lawrence. He’s pictured Wednesday, June 7, 2023, with the cast of “Something Rotten!”

The show takes its title from Marcellus’ famous line in “Hamlet” — “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” — but its tone is anything but high tragedy, as it tells the story of two brothers (played by Alan Martin and Spencer Greenwood) who are dramatists struggling to compete against fellow playwright William Shakespeare.

“The fun thing about Shakespeare in the show is it presents him as if he was some sort of a rock star,” Ulmer said. “Daniel Denton (who plays the Bard) just does a wonderful job with this very over-the-top, egotistical version of Shakespeare.”

The hapless Bottom brothers, being desperate for cash, need to write a hit on a Shakespearean scale. So one of them hires a soothsayer to predict what the Bard’s greatest play will be. Not surprisingly, the soothsayer makes, shall we say, a rotten prediction — but one that happily involves the accidental invention of musical theater.

Ulmer, who just started at Theatre Lawrence in March, wasn’t originally slated to direct the show. He was hoping to first settle into his role as the theater’s new executive director — the first person to hold the job after Mary Doveton, the theater’s founder, had run the operation for 45 years. But when the show’s director had to bow out at the last minute, Ulmer was well-prepared to step in.

“Fortunately, this is the sort of show that is completely in my personal wheelhouse,” he said. “It’s the sort of fast-paced comedy that I really enjoy directing.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

From left Sri Donepudi, ensemble member; Portia, portrayed by Julia Rudd; Patrick Kelly as Brother Jeremiah; Nigel Bottom, performed by Spencer Greenwood; Nick Bottom, performed by Alan Martin; and ensemble member Beth Dearinger rehearse for the musical “Something Rotten!” at Theatre Lawrence .

The show, however, is a far cry from what he considers the “big highlight” of his last job in Beatrice, Nebraska, where he was managing artistic director of Community Players. In that job he helped bring to the stage a true story of a horrific 1985 murder in the small town of Beatrice and the six people who were wrongfully convicted of it. The experience is recounted in 2022’s six-part HBO documentary “Mind Over Murder.”

Ulmer was the producer of the play, did the scenic and lighting design and acted as the liaison between the community theater and HBO.

“That was a unique process, and I’m glad we were able to do it because one of the things that we said was that this was a story about our community and so it needed to be told by people from the community, as opposed to them hiring actors from New York or L.A. to put on this play,” he said.

The reaction to the local production was pretty overwhelming, Ulmer said, noting that the theater received positive responses from “all over the world” and from attorneys and advocates for the wrongfully convicted “about how impactful that show was.”

For Ulmer, it was an example of theater’s ability to profoundly change hearts and minds. People in the town who had clung to one explanation about who killed 68-year-old Helen Wilson were able to finally reconsider their points of view upon seeing the play.

“That’s a great testament to the power of the arts,” he said.

Another testament is theater’s ability to make people laugh, and while “Something Rotten!” wasn’t originally on his radar to direct, Ulmer is now glad that he had the opportunity to dive right into “a really, really fun show.”

“This whole process has been a really good first show for me at Theatre Lawrence, just in terms of the talent of everyone involved and how much everyone is bringing their enthusiasm to the show” and wanting it “to be absolutely amazing,” he said.

The thing that attracted him to the job in Lawrence, after all, was the theater’s national reputation for high-quality productions.

When he heard that Doveton, whom he has known for years, was retiring, he jumped at the opportunity to apply for her job and to nourish her unique legacy.

“It was just too good to resist,” he said.

Now with his first Theatre Lawrence show opening, he’s already looking ahead to next season, when the lineup will include “Crowns,” “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” “Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced,” “I Hate Hamlet” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“Something Rotten!” opens Friday at 4660 Bauer Farm Drive and will have multiple performances through June 25. For information about tickets, call 785-843-SHOW (7469) or go online at

photo by: Mike Yoder

Nigel Bottom, performed by Spencer Greenwood, and Portia, played by Julia Ruddy, rehearse for the musical “Something Rotten!” at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Alan Martin, left, playing Nick Bottom, and Andrew Ramaley as Nostradamus rehearse for the musical “Something Rotten!” at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The cast of the musical “Something Rotten!” rehearses Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.


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