Floyd Collins at Front Porch Theatricals | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Floyd Collins at Front Porch Theatricals

A production of a challenging musical falls short

From left: Danny McHugh, Gena Simms and Daniel Krell in Front Porch Theatricals’ Floyd Collins
From left: Danny McHugh, Gena Simms and Daniel Krell in Front Porch Theatricals’ Floyd Collins
Well, it’s about time. A few years back, a bunch of local folks formed Front Porch Theatricals and proceeded to stage show after dazzling show. I wondered if they were ever going to join us mortals down here on earth — you know, regular people who, no matter how hard we try, just can’t get it right, theatrically speaking.

Or, to put it another way (and I’m sorry to say it), Front Porch Theatricals’ production of Floyd Collins doesn’t work.

It’s not entirely the company’s fault. This 1996 musical from Adam Guettel and Tina Landau is, to put it mildly, one tough son of a bitch. It concerns the true story of a Kentucky caver who in 1925 got trapped underground for 14 days. Happening as it did near the advent of radio, the event became one of the first media sensations, and thousands of people travelled to the pop-up carnival surrounding Collins.

So you’ve got a musical in which the lead character is immobile for two acts. I know — maybe a clutch of peppy, hummable show tunes’ll liven it up!

But if you know anything about composer/lyricist Guettel (who also wrote The Light in the Piazza), you know that “peppy” and “hummable” are not in his vocabulary. What he does write are intensely methodical and excessively elevated swathes of music which swirl around for what seems like hours. For a culture which finds Mamma Mia! an acceptable piece of “theater,” the unyielding Floyd Collins will feel like a prison sentence.

A huge raft of extraordinarily talented people work their butts off to put this show across. Andrew David Ostrowski’s lighting and Lindsey B. Mayer’s set are terrifically evocative and theatrical. Director Rachel M. Stevens and music director Douglas Levine drive this cast to the outer limits of their considerable talents.

Danny McHugh’s got a powerful, emotionally rich voice which he flings out again and again as Floyd, and which makes the character’s fate the spine of the show. Nathan Salstone and Ryan Bergman do tremendous work as the two men trying the hardest to rescue Floyd. Lindsay Bayer is haunting as Floyd’s damaged sister, while Daniel Krell, Sandy Swier and Jonathan Visser contribute solid support.

But still, it just never comes together. There are little things: The 1970s Fosse choreography suddenly springing up in 1925 is, to say the least, odd, and having a secondary character snake silently through the production like the ghost of Sylvia Plath doesn’t really add anything. But while those aspects aren’t good, they’re not the problem. So much talent, work and money has been expended on a production which refuses to fly, yet for the life of me I’m unable to pinpoint the exact problem. You spend a lot of time hoping that the show will spark and catch fire … and when it doesn’t, you just hope it’ll end sooner.

Welcome to the real world, Front Porch Theatricals.

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