Deep in the land of hollows and creeks

Floyd Collins

Book by Tina Landau
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Directed by M.R. Goodley
Gallery Players
199 14th St., Brooklyn/(718) 595-0547
Equity showcase (closes May 19)
Review by David Mackler

Composer/lyricist Adam Guettel has been hailed in some quarters as the savior of musical theatre. If so, it will have to be on the basis of better shows than this. Gallery Players is, as usual, to be lauded for its bold choices, and in fact the production was well-cast and thoughtfully designed, and it had terrific lighting and a crackerjack eight-member orchestra. But what was most surprising about Guettel's music and Tina Landau's book is how unsurprising the whole enterprise was. In spite of the orchestra's best efforts, the music, which seemed sophisticated, was not transforming - in fact it was barely memorable as it was being sung. Even without knowing the plot, it felt familiar as it was being told.

Based on a true story, Floyd Collins is about the eponymous Floyd's dreams of striking it rich by charging admission to the caves he's discovered in rural Kentucky in 1925. Although he's investigated caves before, he gets stuck - and before you can say "Baby Jessica," all kinds of people are involved in the rescue and publicity. The story is divided into three parts: The Cave, The Rescue, and The Carnival, which centers on the attendant media circus (newspaper, radio, and newsreels). It's all terribly earnest and heartfelt, but except for one bit about re-enacting reality for the camera, it has no humor at all.

There was family conflict, but when Floyd sings of his anticipated wealth and then intones "See Papa?" it telegraphs a disapproving father (John-Charles Kelly), who in fact sings about "reaping what you sow" (he's a farmer, not a spelunker). Floyd's stepmother (Jean McCormick) sings of heeding warning dreams, and his sister Nellie (Breanna Pine) sings of following a dream. But these never felt like character songs, merely a writer's. Brian Charles Rooney brought some life to Homer, Floyd's brother, who is the clearest-sighted of them all; and when Floyd sang about a previous experience being trapped there was some recognizable human emotion, but it passed. OK, so maybe the story doesn't require the kind of acerbic bite that Billy Wilder gave it in Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival), but it needs something.

This production did have glorious voices. Nicholas Wuehrmann was a better singer than actor, but there wasn't much of a character to play anyway. After Floyd gets stuck there isn't much for him to do, so it was a pleasant relief to see him singing and dancing in a fantasy sequence. Darron Cardosa stole what acting honors there were, clearly conveying the conflict of the reporter who comes to regret the ruckus he inadvertently started even as he works wholeheartedly for Floyd's release. Todd Reemtsma's set was a collection of platforms around the edge of the wide stage, which allowed for claustrophobia as well as plenty of movement. Gary Bower's lighting design had more shades of emotion than the script. Peter Yarin's orchestra sounded so good it's a shame none of the music stuck in the memory.

M.R. Goodley's direction kept the action moving, and the changes of scene were clear and smooth. But what's to do with an unmelodic song where Floyd tells the reporter that he thinks he's lucky even though he may die? And how surprising is it that Floyd's father succumbs to the merchandising craze? Musicals don't necessarily need chorus girls or production numbers (although Rian Bodner, Aaron Kaburick and Eric Moore made a fine trio), but most of Floyd Collins was enough to make the teeth ache.

Also with Michael Henry, Jonathan Talmadge, Brian M. Golub, Jack Fitz, and Ken Dray. The orchestra was Peter Yarin, Victoria Young, Nathan Lanier, Justin Kantor, Rob Jost, Aaron Grad, Ryan Rightmyre, Rob DiPietro.

Box Score:

Book: 0
Music: 1
Musical Direction: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler