‘Something Rotten!’ will leave you laughing

‘Something Rotten!’ will leave you laughing

Autumn Hurlbert

PROVIDENCE – When you ask Autumn Hurlbert how her show is going, she has to somehow answer, “Rotten.”

That’s not a description of the show, it’s simply part of the title. Hurlbert is a featured player in “Something Rotten!,” now on stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

“People are so excited to see this,” she said in our recent phone interview. “We are so spoiled. We’ve had the best audiences.” The show is a musical comedy, set in 1595, with a story following Nick and Nigel Bottom as they struggle to succeed in the contemporary theatrical world dominated by William Shakespeare.

“It’s so smart and so funny,” said Hurlbert. She plays Portia, who is in love with Nigel Bottom. “My father is Brother Jeremiah, a Puritan. You can’t have the Renaissance without the Puritans. He believes pleasure is a sin, so he makes me live under his strict rules.”

Nigel is “a real poet, and I’m very lovesick. But he brings out Portia’s confidence.”

Hurlbert saw the show on Broadway and loved it. “When I heard they were auditioning for the tour, I called my agent. I said, ‘I know this sounds crazy, and I know I just had a baby, but I think I could nail Portia.’ Then I booked it and thought, ‘Oh no, what do we do?’”

But she and her husband figured out a way to make the schedule work. He travels with the show, and helps with their three-year-old son. Her husband is “a psychologist with a private practice, and he’s become the tour’s resident therapist.”

Hurlbert says she was a “pretty typical” performing kid. “I had this little blanket with a hood on it. That was my long hair. Grandma got me a Mister Microphone, and I put on full shows in the living room.”

When she was in junior high school, she was cast in her first professional show, in her hometown in Arizona. “It was ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’ with Gary Sandy.” Sandy is perhaps best-known as the program director on “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

“When I was in high school and applying for college, I wondered what I would major in. My mother said, ‘Autumn, you need to go to college for theater.’ I said, ‘You can do that?’ And she said, ‘Yes, you can do that.’” She’s very thankful to her parents for that support.

She attended the University of Northern Colorado. “I got to go out of state, and hike, and learn about yoga, and take more electives than I should have. And it was great. This is who I am. This is my best self.”

Hurlbert says that selling “Something Rotten!” was difficult at first. “People were buying it only because it was in the theater’s ‘Hamilton’ package, and they really wanted to see ‘Hamilton.’ So they’d see our show, not knowing what to expect, and by intermission, they’re doing word-of-mouth promotions for us.”

Thursday nights are Hurlbert’s favorites in a one-week run. “That’s when we get to see the local crew bust out laughing. The first two nights of the run, they’re so busy paying attention to all the things that go into the production – light, sound, staging and more – that they miss out on the show. By Thursday, they’re able to pay more attention, and they laugh, and that’s the best thing.”

The show has a lot of humor that can get different reactions in different towns or at different times. “Yeah, the world is a little tense right now, so we’ll say a line and get a different reaction than we’re used to getting, and we’re instantly thinking we messed up. Did I say the wrong line? Is a part of my anatomy showing that shouldn’t be?”

All things considered, Hurlbert is having a great time on the tour. She just extended her contract, as did all the principals. “We all planned to end our contracts around the holidays. But we’re having such a great experience, we decided to stay on.”

So what’s Hurlbert’s best selling line for the show? “If you don’t leave the theater in a better mood than when you came in, well, that’s your fault.”

“Something Rotten!” runs through Sunday, May 20, at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Call 401-421-ARTS for tickets and information, or visit www.ppacri.org .