Knowing that the next 48 hours for most of us (well, the next 96 for me) would be filled with nothing but Oscar Mania, last night I went totally off-cinema to a night of cabaret with brilliant and unprolific composer Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins, The Light in the Piazza). [Tonight is the finale, the 8:30 is sold out but there's one more available at 11:00 pm] Although I wasn't thinking it through properly exactly. The night didn't turn out to be all that off-cinema since the material and the train of thought kept rushing there.
Guettel is, famously, the grandson of the legendary and prolific composer Richard Rodgers, the first person to ever EGOT. Rodgers practically defined the American musical with his first partner Lorenz Hart and his second Oscar Hammerstein II: Babes in Arms, Pal Joey, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Carousel, Oklahoma... the list goes on and on and on. Guettel is an engaging witty stage presence (and unlike many composers has a beautiful singing voice to boot) but his grandfather's long shadow was ever present and referenced in self-deprecating hilarious ways. And yet after I was done laughing I felt totally sad. The world's resistance to the musical form, and Guettel's own personal creative struggles have combined in an truly unfortunate way and we're all missing out!
Floyd Collins (1996) and The Light in the Piazza (2003) Guettel's two most famous shows are nearly breath-stoppingly beautiful musical works. I personally think both would make utterly rich film musicals if done correctly (The Light in the Piazza was already a movie, albeit a non-musical one) and since they're also serious period pieces they could be Oscar hits, too. Not that that matters... but it's just something for movie producers who might be reading to think about *cough*. If Floyd Collins, a true story of a miner trapped in a cave, was approached with the conviction and delicacy of something like Once it could be a movie masterpiece. And I've long felt that if Piazza went back to screen, there'd be a potential Best Actress winning role for the 40something/50something actress who got the plum lead role.
In the years before/between/after? Guettel has written unfinished works and three musicals that are based on movies...
the Oscar-winning Days of Wine and Roses, Danny Boyle's Millions, and the modern classic The Princess Bride. This is the only kind of musical Broadway producers think people want to see. I have a friend in the city who is a musical theater composer and literally the only shows he and his writing partner ever get to audition to write are movie transfers -- I wish I could share the titles (you'd be surprised) but basically producers will consider making almost anything into a musical as long as it comes with pre-sold branding.
But I digress. We'll never see/ hear The Princess Bride due to credit disputes. Supposedly the film's screenwriter William Goldman demanded 75% of the writing credit on the musical adaptation even though Guettel composed basically all of it (music & lyrics) so the project collapsed. That personal greed would rob us of an entire nearly finished Guettel musical makes me enormously angry!
Side note since we're talking squandered talents. One of Guettel's two main vocalist guests was the TV actor Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me, Do No Harm). At several points during the show Guettel joked about Pasquale's ridiculous overabundance of blessings: chiselled handsomeness and that voice, too. What is going on inside his mouth, Guettel wondered aloud saying he wanted to climb in and get a look at the palette. Ha. I wasn't familiar with Pasquale's career but knowing he spends most of his time in non-singing roles in random TV guest spots and series regular gigs was a cause for alarm. His voice, one of the most beautiful male voices I've ever heard, is being wasted!
Here Pasquale is singing "Lily's Eyes" with Will Chase (who you've heard sing on "Smash") from The Secret Garden. He doesn't sound half as good here as he did last night but still sounds pretty great.
And while we're talking of squandered chances at great film musicals, let me ask this in all seriousness. How are there SO many film version of The Secret Garden -- and another one on the way from Guillermo Del Toro -- and not a one of them is the stage musical which has famous songs! It's like what kept happening with Les Misérables before they finally got wise. A fact: no non-musical version of Les Misérables was ever going to gross over $350 million worldwide so it was utterly silly that they kept refusing to make it!