"Floyd Collins"

Through Feb. 13

Signature Theatre

Tickets: 703/218-6500

THOUGH the story is about a man pinned underground in a narrow cave, the music accompanying "Floyd Collins" soars. Flavored with Kentucky bluegrass, violin, guitar and harmonica (try finding a union harmonica player!), the score and lyrics by Adam Guettel add all the color, lust for adventure and expanding horizons missing from the title character's hillbilly-poor life.

Bringing it to the stage was no easy task for music director Kimberly Grigsby, who worked side by side with Signature's resident music director Jon Kalbfleisch. Though she now lives in New York, Grigsby grew up in Alexandria, directing the music for shows while she was a student at Hayfield High School, where she also played oboe and piano. She's since worked with numerous composers but hears in Guettel's unconventional and often dissonant music "a completely new voice."

"People usually want to hear something familiar," she says. "But even though Adam is very rhythmic, he's sophisticated and intricate. He has his own sense of harmonic progressions. This is what makes [the music] difficult to sit down and read--you can't bring anything from your past to relate it to."

To convey the nuances to the musicians, Grigsby emphasized the emotions in the story. In "Git Comfortable," Floyd and his brother Homer's anger at Floyd's predicament give the bass and guitar groove a sharper edge. In the hopeful "Daybreak," which Floyd (Rich Affannato) sings after spending a night alone and undiscovered in his hole, Grigsby told the band to think of "the color of the sky that is a really deep blue, when the sun is just coming up."

Grigsby acknowledges that many may find it odd or unsettling to contemplate a musical about a man who is eventually buried alive. But she insists that at it's core, "Floyd Collins" is an uplifting tale of dreams, hope and, ultimately, making peace with one's fate.

"It's the overall theme of spirituality," says Grigsby. "That's what you feel when you're involved in it, and that's what we hope to convey to the audience."

CAPTION: Will Gartshore, top, and Rich Affannato as Homer and Floyd Collins.