In the age of Twitter, Facebook and 24-hour news channels, it can be easy to forget that media frenzies have been around as long as the media themselves. One of the biggest such events of the early 20th century sprang up in 1925 in south-central Kentucky, where cave explorer Floyd Collins became trapped in the course of discovering what would later be known as Sand Cave. Before long, newspaper and radio reporters were camped out, tens of thousands of tourists showed up, and vendors set up stalls to sell food and souvenirs — a media circus in every sense of the phrase.
That's the foundation for Floyd Collins, a musical by librettist Tina Landau and composer Adam Guettel currently onstage at Boiler Room Theatre. Landau and Guettel's work had humble beginnings — it premiered in 1994 and had a brief off-Broadway run in '96 — but it has lived on in various productions through the years, including a national tour.
A trapped spelunker might seem an unlikely subject for a contemporary musical, but as the Boiler Room production makes clear, it's a strangely captivating work. Landau's book is imaginative, and Guettel bravely locates the nexus where his own serious influences (including complex classical work) meet with the simpler sounds of bluegrass. (Guettel, the subject of almost cultish fandom, went on to win the Tony Award for Best Original Score for 2005's The Light in the Piazza. He's also the grandson of Richard Rodgers.)
While Floyd Collins concerns itself with the plight of the title character, as well as his kith and kin, it is also about what happens when sensationalism overtakes a tragic news event to the point where a carnival atmosphere seems to trump the serious business at hand — namely, Floyd's rescue. It certainly doesn't lack for drama, and the BRT mounting, firmly directed by Laura Skaug, finds an appropriately earthy approach to the material while capturing the sadness and confusion surrounding the principals, whose lives are overwhelmed by forces beyond their control. ...
The show is heading into its final weekend, and it's highly recommended for theatergoers interested in something truly unusual and rewarding.
Read the full review here. The play closes Saturday at Boiler Room, located in The Factory at Franklin; check out the impressive trailer above.