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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Like the Reverend Jenkins and Mrs. Spain, Guettel wrote a rousing ballad to set the stage for the intriguing slice of musical history currently being given a vividly staged production at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. Tina Landau's book (she also wrote some of the lyrics) transforms the fact-based story into a multi-layered tapestry of individual relationships and a subtly shaded picture of a people whose dreams seldom come true. While there aren't any songs you're likely to be humming in the shower the day after you see Floyd Collins, its rich and intriguing mix of ballad, bluegrass, folk, Broadway song and dance and opera will nevertheless make a lasting impression.
Jared Coseglia, who last season helmed another outstanding musical, The Who, Tommy (Our Review) at this venue, once again steers the young performers who make up the Unicorn casts, to meet the show's acting and singing challenges. In keeping with the intimacy of the theater, all sing without the miking that dulls the pleasure of big Broadway shows. The exception is Dalane Mason who plays Floyd Collins. This is understandable given the demands of the role which require him to sing majestically whether crouched in his uncomfortable corner of the cave, while bouncing about as he explores the cave singing hopefully about the dream that prompts his cave exploration or joyfully recalling good times with his devoted brother Homer.
Cory Grant who plays Homer is one of several standouts in a generally outstanding ensemble. Also deserving a special hand is Colby Chambers as the Louisville Courier-Journal reporter who because of his small size was able to actually descend far enough into the cave's narrow passage to talk to Collins -- a reporting stint which brought the real life Skeets Miller and his paper a Pulitzer Prize, but, at least in the musical's reprise of "The Ballad of Floyd Collins," ruefully sings "Forgive me. . .for turning you into a story. Like a real live newspaperman.". Also excellent are the ensemble' s only two women, Rachael Bell as Floyd's beloved sister Nellie (a relationship with hints of incest) and Beth Hallaren as Miss Jane, the kind-hearted stepmother of Nellie, Homer and Floyd.
Adding an at once lighter and satirical touch are Jonathan Kay, Neal Mortimer and Sal Delmonte three reporters who embody the journalistic ringmasters of the circus of news and memorabilia hawkers (the latter including Floyd's father) who hover around the rescue mission. "Isn't That Remarkable", which has this threesome singing and dancing as they phone in their scoops, is the most typically show biz production number. Another jaunty song is Floyd and Homer's truly memorable "Riddle Song." Even traditional musical lovers who might find Floyd Collins a bit too operatic for their tastes and wish for a few more such interludes, are bound to respond to Floyd's final and moving acceptance of his fate in "Glory."
No review of this production would be complete without praise for Julian Barnett for creating choreography that beautifully suits the music and the theater and Mimi Lien for managing to take us inside as well as outside the cave, with room for the musicians to perch unseen at the top of the multi-level set. Marija Djordjevic '20s costumes and Mathew E. Adelson's atmospheric lighting round out this small scale, big impact evening.
Now a new season has followed last summer's double dose of innovative musical revivals (The Who, Tommy and Assassins), is it too much to hope that such musicals will become an annual tradition? If critics would be allowed a vote, I'd cast mine for next year's season to include Michael John LaChiusa's wonderful but rarely produced Hello Again for summer 2005.
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