‘Something Rotten!’ actor Nick Rashad Burroughs talks about being on Broadway, working with Todrick Hall and what inspires him

By : Jeremy Williams
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Nick Rashad Burroughs grew up singing in the church in Birmingham, Alabama. As the son of a preacher, Burroughs spent his days either with the youth choir or running track.

“Track was my focus at the time,” Burroughs says. “I found theater a bit late, but just in time to go to college for it.”

Burroughs went to the University of Alabama to study musical theater and then, right out of college, was cast to be the understudy for the Tony Award-winning actor Billy Porter in the Broadway smash “Kinky Boots.”

Burroughs is now touring the U.S. with the Tony-Award winning show “Something Rotten!,” which is making its way to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando April 24-29.

Burroughs chatted with Watermark ahead of the shows Dr. Phillips run by phone about musical theater, being a part of Todrick Hall’s new visual album and being on Broadway.

Was performing a big part of your upbringing?

Oh yeah, I sang in the church every day. I just didn’t know I could get paid for it [laughs].

When did you realize this was something you wanted to do for a living?

It wasn’t until college that I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then I had to play catch up because there are people who had been doing this since they were little. So in college I became a workaholic learning everything I could about theater so that I could pursue it.

Do you remember the first show you saw that made you fall for theater?

When I was in high school I saw the national tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” It came to Alabama, and I didn’t know much about theater at the time, but my mom’s friend had free tickets to the show and offered to take us. We went because it starred Ruben Studdard and I knew him from “American Idol” and that’s the only thing I knew about the show. So we went and it was the first time I had seen people like me, a bunch of African Americans, just doing musical theater. From that day I got so inspired and that’s when I started to look into it and did a few shows in high school.

I watched your performance reel on YouTube, and let me just say what a voice! You had a few clips of you playing Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” so I have to ask, did you watch the live version on NBC, and if so, what were your thoughts on it?

Thank you, and yes I did watch it. I had so many friends in it and it was so great to see that show and that music being introduced to a new audience. I loved it.

Networks running live musicals on television have become a popular trend over the last few years. Is there a particular musical you would like to see one of the networks run, and maybe be a part of?

I would love to see “Pippin” done live on TV, and it would be a dream being a leading player in it, but I think I would have to work on getting super famous before they let me do that [laughs].

You were in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway right out of college. What was it like getting that call?

Yeah, I was still in school, and I had originally auditioned for the national tour, not for the Broadway production. I had sent an audition video, on a whim, and a couple of days later I’m sitting in a math class and I get a message that they want to see me in New York the next day. So I walked out of that math class and called my mom. I told her, “I am going to have to go to New York tomorrow and I need a little help with a plane ticket.” She has always been supportive, so she helped me out.

I flew to New York, did my callback and flew back home. Long story short, I had seven more callbacks and was going back and forth between Alabama and New York. After that seventh callback I got a call and they said, “we know you were auditioning for the touring production of ‘Kinky Boots’ but we would like you to be in the Broadway production understudying Billy Porter, and being an angel. Can you start rehearsals next week?”

I literally graduated and hit the ground running. I had never been to New York for more than a couple of days and now here I am going from Alabama to learning to navigate the streets of New York City and be in a Broadway show.

What was going through your head that first night you stepped out on a Broadway stage?

I was remembering that night I saw “Ain’t Misbavin’,” of seeing people on a stage that looked like me who were pursuing their dreams, and then there I was. I was standing on a stage getting ready to do the same thing. It was surreal, I cried.

We just spoke with Todrick Hall for his tour, which is coming to Orlando May 2, and he released his new album last month which you appear on. How did that come about?

Todrick and I are such good friends because of “Kinky Boots,” I understudied him when he was in the Broadway show. From that we became just great friends and I love him so much. He is just so brilliant in everything he does. His work is so detailed and creative.

I was out touring with “Something Rotten!” and reached out and was like “so I’m doing my new visual album with Brandy and Jennifer Lewis and RuPaul, and I was wondering if you were free at all to come by and record a song for it and be on the album?” Of course I said yes.

So my next day off I had he flew me out to L.A. and I recorded my song. Then the next week I went to Universal Studios and shot my number. My number was the one he put out for the first trailer for his visual album because it was a statement piece on police brutality. The reaction was amazing. His album opened at number one on iTunes’ Pop Charts. I was just so honored to get to be a part of it.

The final product, “Forbidden” is amazing. Did you know the entire story and layout before filming your segment, or did you only get to see the full picture after it was completed?

He told me about a couple of the things he was doing with it, but not the whole picture. He had so much going on with that production, there’s 30 songs in it, so much music. While I was in the recording studio he told me the structure of it but then I saw it and I was like this is money. He went all out with this.

You are also heading to Orlando with the Broadway hit “Something Rotten!” For those who are unfamiliar with this show, what is it about?

“Something Rotten!” is a love letter to musical theater. It’s a parody on how the very first musical was created. In the show Shakespeare is the big villain, but he’s a lovable villain [laughs]. In our version, he is a leather pants-wearing, Mick Jagger-type rockstar who gets under the skin of our lead, Nick Bottom, who is just trying to write the next big hit. Shakespeare keeps getting in his way.

It’s the type of show that if you are not a musical theater or Shakespeare fan, it makes fun of it enough that you’ll be laughing the entire time, so there are enough different elements that it is a show for everyone.

Is this your first time touring with a show?

Yes, this is the first national touring show I’ve ever done and we have been on the road with the show for a year now.

How is the tour going?

It’s going great. This is such an awesome company. Everyone is so loving and sweet, I mean how could you not have fun? There are grown men and women as tap dancing eggs, it’s so fun [laughs].

Nick Rashad Burroughs (center) and the cast of the “Something Rotten!” National Tour. © Jeremy Daniel

What’s the most interesting or unique experience you have had on the road?

There have been so many. We got to perform for Liza Minnelli. She sat in the front row when we were in L.A. and that was a crazy experience. She pointed me out after the show and I have it on video of her telling me that she loved me specifically. I almost lost it. That was such a cool experience.

Also when we were in Tampa, a sweet black girl, no more than four years old, came out looking for us – myself and Tonia, another person of color in the show — after we finished. She said she was looking for us because we are her heroes. It was this sweet little girl noticing two actors on stage that looked like her, and it reminded me of when I first saw “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and that was the most amazing thing to see her face and know that she was inspired and that she can do it too. It was nice.

FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando presents “Something Rotten!” at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts April 24-29. Tickets start at $34.25 and are available at DrPhillipsCenter.org.

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