Book by Tina Landau Music & Lyrics by Adam Guettel.
Four Stars ****
Wilton’s Music Hall to 15 October 2016
1 Graces Alley, London E1 8JB
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7702 2789.
Review: William Russell 28 September.
Buried alive – a much revived musical
First things first. I have never liked this 1996 off Broadway musical, staged her several times already and it is hard to see why it has resurfaced yet again. Except that this production is very good indeed and has a superb Floyd in Ashley Robinson. He sings his heart out to great effect.
There are good reasons for going, although Wilton’s really is not one of them. The hall has terrible acoustics, not helped by the fact the cast are miked, which leads to loud but inaudible lyrics. Things are not helped by placing the orchestra in the gallery so that one is drenched in overhead sound.
The plot is simple. It is 1925, Floyd, a none to bright Kentucky lad, has gone exploring a local cave system and got stuck. Can he be rescued? The local newspaperman reports the tale, it becomes a national event, a media circus descends and things duly follow a pretty well trodden course.
Billy Wilder’s 1951 film Ace in the Hole tells much the same story, but the focus is not on the man trapped in the mine but on the reporter who exploits his plight. The result was a hugely compelling drama which really had something to say about how outsiders can take over other people’s lives and the American way.
Landau’s book never manages to do that. On the plus side, however, and it is a big plus, there is Guettel’s score, which has some lovely melodies which survive, more or less, those echoing acoustics. Wilton’s is always lauded as a Victorian gem whose survival is a miracle, but in truth it is no gem for the audience, a high ceilinged, echoing vault with tricky sightlines. It would have been sad had it disappeared, but no great loss.
Not everything the Victorians built is worth keeping.
The book also raises problems. Floyd has a fragile sister Nellie, sweetly sing by Rebecca Trehearn, and a dumb brother called Homer, well done by Samuel Thomas, but there are some moments when one does wonder whether there is incest going on in this hillbilly family so romantic are their various encounters in song. As for the rest, Daniel Booroff is incisive as the reporter who sets the whole thing in motion, and Jack Chissick lends reality to the goings on as Floyd’s bemused by the media circus father. In a sense it is all quite topical still, but without Robinson, who creates against the odds – he spends much of the evening impaled on the rather clever skeletal set – an interesting figure out of not very much straw, this would have been a revival too far – for me at least.
Carmichael: Ian Burfield.
Lee Collins: Jack Chissick.
Reporter: Joel Elferink.
Miss Jane: Sarah Ingram.
Reporter: Christopher Jordan-Marshall.
Jewell Estes: Francesco Lo Guidice.
Bee Doyle: Craig Pinder.
Floyd Collins: Ashley Robinson.
Reporter: Alex Spinney.
Homer Collins: Samuel Thomas.
Nellie Collins: Rebecca Trehearn.
Director: Jonathan Butterell.
Costume Designer: Lee Newby.
Musical Director: Tom Brady.
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher.
Sound Designer: Tony Gayle.
Co-Sound Designer: Justin Teasdale.
Associate Director: Kirk Jameson.