I think Adam Guettel could be the next big thing. Here's why.
By Michael Kras (Actor/Director/Playwright)
Do you know this man?
If you're a fan of musical theatre, I suspect you do. But Adam Guettel is still surprisingly 'under the radar' in the theatrical world, and this is for a variety of different reasons. He's only written three shows, and just one of those three shows has appeared on a Broadway stage. If you're not familiar with his work, I'm here to tell you exactly why you should be.
Allow me to make a bold statement: I like Adam Guettel more than Stephen Sondheim. Now, before you come after me with pitchforks and torches, notice I didn't say that Guettel is BETTER than Sondheim. But I like Guettel more. In fact, he's my all-time favourite composer. Here are just a few reasons why.
Reason #1: Floyd Collins
Please indulge me as I tell a bit of a story. The year was 2004, and I was a mere 11 years old. My dad's girlfriend at the time saw a little musical called Floyd Collins at the Shaw Festival, a huge theatre festival in Ontario, Canada. A show based on the true story of a Kentucky cave explorer who became trapped in a sand cave, becoming a huge media sensation as he slowly began to realize that the cave would soon become his grave.
She knew I had an interest in musicals, so she gave me a copy of the cast recording for this little show I'd never even heard of. Well, I listened to the damn thing religiously. It was in my Walkman for the longest time (Remember those things?) but after a while I kind of forgot about it. Then, about two years ago, I was browsing iTunes, when I came across the very cast album I'd listen to so many years ago. Remembering how much I liked it, I ended up buying it.
I listened to it from start to finish. Wow. By the end of it I was an emotional mess. It connected with me in a way that it never would or could have when I was only 11 years of age. The music in Floyd Collins is an astonishing and complex blend of classical, bluegrass, country, Americana, and musical theatre. Allow me to make another bold statement: Floyd Collins could be one of the greatest modern achievments in contemporary musical theatre.
Here's the thing though: I can recommend the show to you, but I absolutely cannot promise you'll like it. The music is memorable, but not in that stuck-in-your-head kind of way. There aren't any catchy melodies or fun pop tunes. But I defy you to listen to How Glory Goes, as Floyd accepts that he's going to die and asks God what heaven's like, and not have a lump in your throat. Go ahead, try:
Reason #2: His music is rich and complex.
Allow me to go back to Floyd Collins for a moment. I still listen to the cast album semi-frequently, and whenever I do, I always find something new musically. That's part of the brilliance of Guettel's orchestrations: They're ridiculously complex, but that gives the listener so much to explore. It almost feels like a fresh listening experience each time.
Another stroke of brillance from Floyd... The use of yodeling. Stay with me here. In the opening of the show, Floyd has this epic 12 minutes of solo singing as he explores the sand cave. In this twelves minutes, Floyd does a lot of yodeling. In one brilliant moment of pure musical ear-candy, he yodels continuously into the bowels of the cave and his yodeling echoes back at him. It soon becomes this awesome vocal round featuring one person. How darn smart is that? Just listen for yourself:
Reason #3: His music defies genres.
Sure, Adam's music clearly has a lot of different influences, but it's tough to categorize him as any one thing. Just listen to his awesome song cycle, Myths and Hymns... You've got gentle contemporary ballads, techno beats, classical, gospel, and more. Even his musical The Light in the Piazza, which was specifically written with a classical sensibility, twists things around in a neat way.
Reason #4: Quality over quantity.
Adam has only written three musicals. Two of them aren't even all that well known. That's kind of tragic to me... I think Guettel's music is more than deserving of much higher recognition.
But that's the thing. Since the mid-90s, Guettel has only composed Floyd Collins, Myths and Hymns, and The Light in the Piazza. All three scores are excellent in their own right, and that's because of the obvious care that has been put into each one. He's not churning stuff out there like a madman... he takes his time. I know Guettel is working on a few new projects, including a musical adaptation of the Danny Boyle film Millions. Lord knows when we'll get to see it, but I'm confident that it'll be worth the wait.
Reason #5: He sings like a dream.
I remember how shocked I was when I discovered that Guettel sings a bunch of the songs on his Myths and Hymns album. The man's got a pretty voice. Obviously certain voices aren't for everyone, but I'm personally obsessed. Don't just take my word for it though:
These are just a few reasons I love Adam Guettel's work. I can't wait to see what he brings out next, and until then, I'm perfectly content listening to the three shows he's already written, all of which have stood the test of time for me in terms of playability. Maybe Guettel isn't the next Sondheim, but I don't think there's any doubt he'll go down in the history books as one of the greats
To close off, here's a creepy clip of Adam singing as a ventriloquist dummy with Meryl Streep:
Question of the Day: Are you a Guettel fan? What's your favourite song or score? Drop a comment!