Composer Adam Guettel certainly knows his way around a musical’s concluding song. In The Light in the Piazza, which is receiving an award-winning, sold-out production at Theo Ubique up in Rogers Park, a mother sings about her bittersweet realizations of knowing when to let go for the sake of love with “Fable.” It’s an electrifying moment.
And in Floyd Collins, which is based on the true story of an amateur Kentucky cave explorer who finds himself trapped in his latest discovery in January 1925, the once fearless Collins begins to realize that the reality of being saved is rapidly diminishing. As he stares, wide-eyed, into the black abyss, Collins launches into “How Glory Goes” — one of the most stunning songs in modern musical theatre. And in Boho Theatre’s rock-solid production, Jim DeSelm delivers this simple hymn with equal parts fear, wonder and awe.
This moment (which stays with you well after you’ve left Theatre Wit and are walking home on Belmont in the warm, humid rain, relishing in your own personal freedom) is very well-earned in this infrequently produced show.
Guettel, along with book writer Tina Landau, have crafted a folksy, deeply human-scale musical that’s filled with hope and also peppered with flashes of cynicism toward the American dream. The news of Collins’ situation spreads like a Colorado wildfire, resulting in a 20th century media circus above ground — a moment played up in the smart second act opening number, “Is That Remarkable?”
There’s much to admire in this must-see production. Director Peter Marston Sullivan keeps the action focused on the story, avoiding any flashy directorial tricks. Most refreshingly, Alan Bukowiecki’s music direction does Guettel’s deceptively complex score proud, thanks to the five person band and a vocally astute cast. Of the many remarkable moments, Sarah Bockel (as Collins’ strong-willed sister) provides a plaintively gorgeous rendition of “Through the Mountain,” which she delivers as a hopeful lullaby to her brother below.
I’ve loved this show for nearly a decade based solely on the 1996 cast recording of the short-lived Off-Broadway production, and feel honored and lucky to have this production serve as my introduction.
“Floyd Collins” plays through July 15 at Theatre Wit. More info here >;