Following the success of last fall’s sold-out hit “My Fair Lady,” the Program in Theatre has kicked off this season’s group of senior thesis productions with two musicals, October’s “[title of show]” and now “Floyd Collins,” which opened last weekend in the Matthews Acting Studio at 185 Nassau Street and runs through Saturday.
This fall’s selection shows a break from Golden Age Broadway and is a brave foray into the unconventional space of new musical theater. The season takes a darker turn with “Floyd Collins,” which is the thesis project of director Andy Linz ’11, singing actress Hannah Wilson ’11 and set designer Martha Ferguson ’11.
The play, which is by Tina Landau and Adam Guettel, is based on the real-life story of a Kentucky man trapped in a cave in the winter of 1925 and the national media carnival that followed the rescue attempts.
Linz’s challenge becomes dramatizing the internal experience of the hero, who sits on stage between two rocks for the majority of the performance. While the plot occasionally loses momentum, he ultimately does a good job staging slow-moving material that struggles against the stagnancy of the dramatic situation. Ferguson’s appropriately sparse, yet versatile, set creatively uses the space of the theater, moving fluidly between Collins’ home, the outside of the cave and 150 feet below ground where Collins is trapped.
One of the production’s highlights is the use of echo. As Floyd discovers the cave and sings, he creates a chorus of voices that help understand why this story is rightly told in musical medium.
Equipped with a strong and delightful tenor, the very watchable Dan Corica ’12 shines as the title character, successfully maturing Floyd from an adventuring, hopeful dreamer to a man ready for death. His evocative rendition of “How Glory Goes” is climactic and aching.
Brad Wilson ’13 is especially winning as Homer, Floyd’s brother. He and Corica are both playful and heartbreaking in “The Riddle Song.” Here Linz correctly chooses to free Corica from his confines in a dreamlike moment where brothers reminisce, making it all the more painful when the song ends and Floyd returns to his entrapment.
Less successful staging comes in “Git Comfortable” when Wilson’s compelling performance is short-changed by his placement high up on the balcony, much too far from the audience.
Whitaker Brown ’13 stands out among the ensemble of townspeople who battle their desires to rescue Collins and the tempting promises of media fame. Brown shows off impressive vocal chops in his delivery of “The Ballad of Floyd Collins,” one of the score’s most memorable moments.
Equally first-rate is the lovely-- voiced Amy Vickery ’12, who reaches emotional depth as Floyd’s stepmother, an outsider trying to hold the family together. She shares a touching moment in “Heart an’ Hand” with her stage husband, played by Joshua Zeitlin ’11. As the female lead, Hannah Wilson ‘11 adds layers to her character Nellie, Floyd’s naive and fragile sister, when the material provides little room for her to do so.
Music director Andrea Grody ’11 skillfully leads her musicians through the difficult music and accomplishes a rare feat in the Matthews Acting Studio that is worth noting: an ideal acoustic balance of orchestra and actor singing. Even from the rear of the audience, most underscored dialogue and nearly all lyrics are completely comprehensible, something crucial in a character-based plot where development relies more on word than action.
Overall, Linz and his production team offer a polished show. They tackle dark and slow-moving material with a fine ensemble of players and work toward a powerful ending. At the show’s opening, Floyd climbs down from the balcony into the cave, where the audience awaits. In the end, as the final lights fade to black, the audience is left in that cave, alone in the same mortal coil as the hero.
Pros Fine cast, good production quality.
Cons Slow at times.