Veteran actor Bruce Dow prompted rave reviews earlier this season for his portrayal on Broadway of King Herod in the production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that originated at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Now he inhabits Bottom, a character of very different stripes, in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"Every actor wants to be a serious actor, so Bottom is a real challenge," Dow said. "He's a braggart, while my humor is more self-effacing. He goes on a really cool journey that lightens up on the way. In this production, I find myself one of five or six shameless comedians with a broad range of age and comedy styles, from sophisticated British to borscht belt. It's great to be part of such a wonderful cast.

"When I was starting out, I went through eating disorders to become a skinny leading man, but once I began putting on weight, new roles came my way because directors were willing to look outside the box. That led to two of my favorite roles, the emcee in 'Cabaret' and the Baker in 'Into the Woods.' For Bottom, you want a burly, funny guy, so I fill the bill.

"From the director of 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' who went back to Tim Rice's sources, I learned that the Herod of Christ's time was not the one we know of as Herod the Great, but his son, Herod Antipas. When the Romans took over, they made him a pariah, or puppet king, who thought he should be king. My big number lasted two minutes and 52 seconds. It was essentially a mini two-act play in which he lost it toward the end."

'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
» Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW
» When: Thursday through Dec. 30
» Info: $43 to $105; 202-547-1122;

When he is not acting, directing or teaching at colleges and universities, Dow utilizes his training as a classical pianist to compose and write lyrics for musicals. His witty personality and musical talent come to the fore in his cabaret appearances that can be viewed on YouTube and heard on his two CDs, "Lucky to Be Me" (2005) and "Keepin' out of Mischief" (2008).

"I don't know where my sense of humor came from," he confessed. "I didn't think of my family as particularly amusing. I was a painfully good little boy. It was not until late in high school when things began to slide downhill. I remember that I was inspired to seek a career in the theater watching Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin on TV. After my mother explained that they weren't really those characters but were just acting the parts, I thought that becoming an actor would be the coolest thing in the world.

"I love to perform for children because they let you know if you are any good or not, so I hope that a student audience will come to see 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' It's a magical experience because it's live theater. Every character has a heart and soul and a great story to tell."