There were butterflies aplenty when composer-lyricist Adam Guettel and playwright Tina Landau came down from New York to see "Floyd Collins" at Signature Theatre recently. It was the first production of their musical in which they'd had no involvement.
"It was thrilling," recalled Landau on the phone from New York. "We went backstage afterward and the cast was very happy to meet us and told us that they were nervous--and I told them not as nervous as we were."
From his Manhattan studio, Guettel (pronounced GET-ull) said, "I thought it was lovely. It was really great to see it done by a whole new group of people and see it in a way that had nothing to do with my nagging input--or Tina's, for that matter."
Both of the show's creators admitted they saw things in their work they would change, except, Landau said, "we decided we were gonna let the piece go out and have its life."
After seeing Signature's "Floyd Collins," Guettel admitted that he's made it tough on the singers. Also, he said, "it's a little bit sort of ushy-gushy spiritual to me. It feels a little bit earnest." If he were to fiddle with the show, he'd try to deal more profoundly with the metaphysical elements. For Landau, too, it's always been a story about "a person who needed to surrender to loss of control . . . to forces that are larger than himself."
"Floyd Collins" recounts the true story of a Kentucky caver who became trapped underground in 1925. He died as a media circus roiled above ground and rescue efforts foundered. (The 1951 Billy Wilder movie, "Ace in the Hole," a k a "The Big Carnival," was based on the same incident.)
Said Landau, who wrote the script and directed the first production in Philadelphia in 1994, along with subsequent ones in New York, Chicago and San Diego: "One of our greatest fears was to do injustice to the people and the place. We felt like such outsiders, and the piece is so much about the intrusion of the outside world."
The collaborators met in the early 1980s when she was a senior and he a freshman at Yale. They began work on "Floyd Collins" in 1992.
"My musical departure point was [based on] the kind of music that was being sung and played at that time and place," Guettel said. That "austere" folk style is "incredibly rich and carries its own world in the sound of it . . . that was not always going to be best expressed through a conventional razzmatazz song."
The resulting score ranges from melodic country-flavored tunes to scale-climbing arias and recitatives (sung dialogue), far different from the songs Guettel's grandfather Richard Rodgers created for shows such as "South Pacific" and "Carousel." ("People kind of expected me to be not very good, in the grand tradition of sons and grandsons--to be a bad knockoff of the original," Guettel said. "When people think you're going to be bad, you're in the catbird seat.")
He and Landau plan another collaboration soon and, Guettel said, it will be "very different from 'Floyd,' that's for sure."
On the London Stage
The Shakespeare Guild's John Andrews returned last week from London, well satisfied with the manner in which the 2000 Gielgud Award festivities came off. Andrews wants to keep the ceremony international; perhaps London every other year and maybe Los Angeles in 2001. The award for excellence in the dramatic arts previously has been presented in Washington, D.C., and New York. "Ultimately, I'd like for it to be televised," he said.
In the ceremony at Middle Temple Hall, Kenneth Branagh received the Golden Quill for his contributions to keeping the Great Man's works alive on film ("Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Hamlet" and soon, "Loves Labour's Lost"). The event featured such luminaries as previous recipients Dame Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi, and Branagh's most recent ex-significant other, Helena Bonham Carter; ex-wife Emma Thompson wasn't invited, as it would have been "inappropriate." Now 95, John Gielgud himself was too frail to attend.
The English press gave some genial coverage, Andrews said. But David Benedict of the Independent, under the headline "Much Ado About Nothing," belittled Branagh's work and the award. He did credit Branagh for helping "folk from, say, Ames, Iowa--who I suspect have traditionally been starved of the Bard in anything other than book form . . . the opportunity of seeing him at the multiplex."
A Fine Living Arrangement
Source Theatre Company and Washington Stage Guild are finding their new living arrangement quite satisfactory. The latter accepted the offer to share Source's renovated 14th Street NW space after it was booted last fall from its G Street quarters.
"They were facing the possibility of not being able to produce anywhere, or potentially folding," said Source Artistic Director Joe Banno. "We were facing a fiscal crisis, and we said why don't we just pool our resources. We have this wonderful space. Let's use it."
Since fall, the cutting-edge, in-your-face Source aesthetic has alternated with the refined, George Bernard Shaw-besotted Stage Guild. Their most recent productions--Source's "Inns and Outs" and Stage Guild's "The Confidential Clerk"--and their co-production of "St. Nicholas" earned critical plaudits and good audiences.
Source's fiscal crisis grew out of its over-budget renovation--a nearly $1 million job funded by a $500,000 grant from the city plus private donations.
"Our renovation was our biggest godsend and also our biggest curse, because it created a year of disruption," Banno said. Source presented "Private Eyes" and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" at other venues and lost money. Then a construction delay led to postponement of David Mamet's "Edmond," scheduled to open the renovated space last spring.
Enter Ann Norton, Stage Guild executive director (and president of the League of Washington Theatres). When her company linked up with Source, Banno asked her to lend her fiscal expertise.
Norton cut Source's producing budget mercilessly. "My nickname was Satan for a while," she joked, but "we have started concentrating on the secret of theater, which is butts in the seats. . . . That means you're making income, and that means you can pay bills, and that means you can do more plays and have more butts in the seats."
The two companies will continue to share the theater at least through next season. "Given the fiscal limitations of both Source and Stage Guild, having two companies in the same space is a really logical thing to do," said Norton.
For Banno, the companies have become "like two roommates with different majors sharing a dorm room in college." Said Norton, "Who knows? Next year we may start buying food together."
* "Martin Guerre" won't be going to Broadway this spring after all, producer Cameron Mackintosh announced last week, just after its Kennedy Center run. He told reporters in New York he wasn't able to find an available theater and has postponed the New York opening indefinitely. The current tour will end in April after playing Seattle and Los Angeles. Mackintosh said the show's sets would be stored in hopes that a Broadway theater opens up. Despite the mixed and often negative reviews, the musical did well at the box office (around 90 percent capacity in Washington).
* Washington Shakespeare Company will have pay-what-you-can previews Thursday through Saturday and Monday of "The Revenger's Tragedy" at its Clark Street Playhouse in Arlington. All performances are at 8 p.m. Jesse Berger of the Shakespeare Theatre has directed the Jacobean (post-Shakespeare) "horror play" by Thomas Middleton. Call 703-418-4808.
* Source will offer pay-what-you-can previews of Craig Lucas's apocalyptic cyberthriller, "The Dying Gaul," Feb. 2-4 at 8 p.m. Call 202-462-1073 or just show up.
CAPTION: No razzmatazz: Rich Affannato and Will Gartshore as Floyd and Homer Collins in "Floyd Collins," at Signature Theatre.
CAPTION: In London, Dame Judi Dench with Kenneth Branagh and his Gielgud Award.