When Brian Cowing was seven years old he started taking tap dancing lessons. As his passion for performing and musical theater grew, he continued perfecting his time steps, shuffles, and hops throughout high school. He even took tap classes in college at Oklahoma City University. He’s known in Madison as an accomplished director and choreographer, working extensively with Edgewood High School, Children’s Theater of Madison, Four Seasons Theatre, and Capital City Theater. But it was Cowing’s tap dancing ability that probably landed him a part in the national tour of the musical Something Rotten, which will come to Madison’s Overture Hall, October 9-14.
“The casting director told us it took twice as long cast this show because the tap dance routines are so advanced,” Cowing chuckled during a recent phone interview. He then explained the unlikely series of events that led to his part in such a high profile show.
Brian Cowing: I was in Madison last spring working with CTM and Capitol City Theater, but I didn’t have a full year of work lined up. So I was looking through Playbill [a trade publication/website that lists auditions]. The call came up for Something Rotten, and they indicated they would take video submissions for the first round. I submitted a video and then they asked me to come to New York for a call back, but I was in the middle of a show. Begrudgingly the casting agents sent me a video of a very complicated tap routine and asked me to learn it. So I grabbed a friend of mine who’s a choreographer, went into the studio, and sent a video of my performance in the next day. Then I got the call.
Isthmus: So, what’s it like traveling around the country as part of the cast of Something Rotten?
Brian Cowing: It’s a blast. This is only the second national tour of the show, and we have a brand new cast. I’m so excited.
Isthmus: And this isn’t actually your first national gig, is it?
Brian Cowing: No. I toured with the musical Annie for a year and a half back in 2014. I played Bundles the laundryman, was part of the ensemble, and also the dance captain.
Isthmus: When did you finally get to meet the rest of the cast for Something Rotten?
Brian Cowing: We rehearsed in New York for two and a half weeks, every day from 10am – 6pm.
Isthmus: That’s not a long time to learn a brand new, really complicated musical!
Brian Cowing: No, it’s really not. But we did it!
Isthmus: Where did you have your first performance?
Brian Cowing: We went to Columbus, Georgia, for a week of technical rehearsals and performed our first preview there. Then, just to make sure the show can travel easily, we did two, one-night-only shows in Davenport, Iowa, and West Lafayette, Indiana.
Isthmus: So where are you now?
Brian Cowing: We’re in Detroit for the official opening.
Isthmus: And how long are you committed to the show?
Brian Cowing: I’ll be in it through June of 2019. It’s nice knowing what I’m going to be doing for the next nine months.
Isthmus: So the show is a broad comedy about two brothers in the 16th century who are trying to write a more successful play than their rival, Shakespeare. In the process, they end up inventing the musical. How have your first few audiences reacted to this crazy scenario?
Brian Cowing: The crowds have been amazing. You can’t not smile when you see this show. There are lots of fun references to musical theater and Shakespeare, but you don’t have to know anything ahead of time to have fun. The crowds just go nuts. There are two production numbers that are big spectacles. And it just doesn’t stop.
Isthmus: So what has surprised you the most about this new job?
Brian Cowing: It’s been a really fun process. I haven’t performed for awhile; I’ve mostly focused on directing and choreography. Now being back in a rehearsal room as an actor is so much fun. And we have such an amazing team, with cast members from all over the county. This show, this is what I love about musical theater — the spectacle. I mean, a good kick line never hurt anybody.
Isthmus: What’s the hardest thing about performing the show?
Brian Cowing: It’s really non-stop backstage. There are so many elaborate costume changes. I do get a two-minute break in Act 2. And the costumes are so gorgeous, but they are really big and heavy. It’s challenging.
Isthmus: So, are you excited or nervous to perform in Madison?
Brian Cowing: Both. People know me more as a director and choreographer. It’ll be a fun surprise for people.
Isthmus: What would you say to convince people they should come see Something Rotten?
Brian Cowing: Don’t be scared by the Shakespeare — it’s truly a show for everyone. I’ve been talking to everyone in the cast about how great Madison is, and how warm the audiences are. We can’t wait!
For tickets and more information about Something Rotten, (and to see Brian Cowing onstage!) visit overture.org/events/something-rotten.