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Actors Theatre of Louisville's season opener--the first production under artistic director Marc Masterson, Jon Jory's successor--is a splendid choice, splendidly performed and spellbinding in its effect.
Floyd Collins the true story of the young Kentucky cave explorer who was trapped and died in 1925 after a 17-day ordeal that produced America's first media circus, has been turned into a powerful and soul-stirring musical by Adam Guettel, the grandson of Richard Rodgers (music and lyrics), and Tina Landau (book and additional lyrics).
The incident, so deeply rooted in Kentucky history and folklore, made headline news daily throughout the world after cub reporter William "Skeets" Miller was dispatched from Louisville to the Mammoth Cave area in Western Kentucky by The Courier-Journal to get the story soon after Collins was trapped. Because of his small size Miller was able to reach Collins, talk to him, and deliver food and water by squeezing through the narrow passageway. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage.
Guettel's depiction through song ("Is That Remarkable?") of reporters phoning in scoops to their papers brilliantly satirizes the media madness. (The Floyd Collins story and the media frenzy and exploitation surrounding it were the inspiration for Billy Wilder's 1952 film called Ace in the Hole and later retitled The Big Carnival, starring Kirk Douglas as an opportunistic reporter.)
Performing on a multi-level set (another ingenious Paul Owen creation) with unsteady-looking metal ramps representing the cramped cave passages through which rescuers attempt to reach Collins, the cast under Jonathan Eaton's seamless direction, conveys the dreams and unquenchable hopes of people for whom dreaming and hoping bring no results.
Ron Bohmer (recently the lead in the national tour of The Scarlet Pimpernel) is extraordinary as Collins, singing gloriously in uncomfortable positions and rising at times from his entrapment to cavort athletically and sing joyously of better times. Kevin Kraft as his devoted brother Homer and Jeff Edgerton as Skeets Miller match his excellence. Rachel Ulanet, the simple sweet-natured sister of Floyd and Homer, sings beautifully, especially in her "Lucky" duet with Sharon Kinnison as the kindly Miss Jane, stepmother to the Collins siblings.
"The Ballad of Floyd Collins" the show's first song, hauntingly sets the stage for the tragedy that follows; it is reprised near the end. (A more traditional ballad called "The Death of Floyd Collins", issued in 1925 by a major New York music publisher, Shapiro, Bernstein and Company, and written by the Rev. Andrew Jenkins and Mrs. Irene Spain, sold thousands of copies.)
"How Glory Goes" the poignant song that Collins sings in the musical's closing moments as his death nears, stands as a glowing testament to acceptance of one's fate.
Guettel's score is an intriguing mix of bluegrass, Broadway, folk, and opera. Under Scott Kasbaum's musical direction and conducted by Gayle King, it's played by a small orchestra on a rocklike ledge high above the cave opening.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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