Reading like an intrinsic hybrid of astrology, mythology and religious practice, Adam Geuttel’s song cycle Myths and Hymns epitomizes just why the Grandson of the esteemed Richard Rodgers, and son of Mary Rodgers is considered to be a key player in creating the ‘New Music Theatre Sound’. Better known for his work on Tony Award Winning The Light in the Piazza or his 1996 epic Floyd Collins, Guettel’s song cycle explores the boundless spectrum of ideology, spirituality and humanity. While his piece contains no through plot line, Guettel mixes the text of an early century Protestant Hymnal and the stories of ancient Greek Mythology to explore the vast depths of humanity and our interactions with faith, the gods and love – imploring the audience to take stock and evaluate the choices of their everyday life.
First performed off-Broadway under the title Saturn Returns, Myths and Hymns opened for a limited season at the Public Theatre for 16 performances, before closing on April 26 1998. Performed in concert form, Guettel’s work encapsulates a plethora of musical styles – ranging from romantic art song to rock, gospel and R&B. Through his music and his chosen texts Guettel encapsulates the human desire for connection, be it romantic, academic or religious.
No short of familial inspiration, Guettel comes from a rich line of music theatre composers. His grand fathers is Richard Rodgers, of the ‘… and Hammerstein’ fame, who in his day was responsible the music behind shows that redefined theatre for all ages to come. His mother, Mary Rodgers, is Juilliard School Chairman and a composer as well, best known for her music in Once Upon A Mattress, as well as being a collaborator on Working. Guettel inherited this same talent, obvious to all around him to such a degree that at the age of 15, Mary Rodgers is quoted as saying she gave him advice for only a year, because “After that, he was so far beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of, I just backed off.” It is no surprise that Guettel has since been rewarded for his musical prowess, including winning the 1996 Tony Award for Best Music and Orchestration, as well as the Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Orchestrations that same year for his work on The Light in the Piazza.
Great Kudos should be given to Groove Tonic Melbourne for bringing this inspired production to our shores in what will be Myths and Hymn’s Australian Premiere. Artistic Director/Music Director/Featured performed Luke Steward has played a pivotal role in bringing this production to life. Incorporating work and study, Steward has brought this marvelous song cycle to our shores as a part of his Masters of Applied Theatre Studies, which he is currently completing through the University of New England. He has devised this production as “ ‘performance as research’ whereby a question is suggested and then explored through the development and staging of a dramatic work.”
Taking inspiration from the recent West End and Broadway revivals of Sweeney Todd, Company and Mack and Mabel, Steward and his director, Emily Paterson, have devised a performance where by the company perform the duel roles of actor and musician. A challenging role for any company, Stewart and Paterson have embarked on a high-risk endeavour, searching for a cast of multi-talented performer musicians that can pay justice to the intricate demands within music of Adam Geuttel. A challenging audition process ensued. Stewart shared with theatrepeople in a recent interview that “The auditions really called for multi-instrumentals who were also actors/singers or vice-versa. A portion of the cast were invited to participate, while the rest were found through an open audition process. There were a number of people who could’ve been a part of the show, but the final decisions came down to a mix of strengths and also the range of instruments that people could play and the options that gave for realisation in performance”. The fact that the Victorian Amateur Music Theatre scene has been able to produce such a multitalented cast of actor/musicians is a credit to the flourishing theatrical scene Melbourne is now producing. Having a cast able to produce music as intricate and demanding as Adam Guettel’s is a credit to Steward and his team.
While Steward admits he is a fan of the song cycle genre, one of the most difficult impositions of the style is the lack of set narrative to drive a story through the entire piece. However, the Groove Tonic team have risen to what was admittedly one of their greatest challenges. They initially tackled this issue by finding “a ‘space’ to set the work that was accessible and familiar to an audience. The whole show takes place within a bar, and each character whether they be manager, barman, band leader or patron have their grounding in the ‘world’ of the bar. By creating a framework where people would be familiar with each other, it means that we can establish relationships and hierarchy to then assign each song and support the narrative. Everything that happens doesn’t take place within an hour, rather they’re moments in each characters lives.”
In a show that asks you to reevaluate your life in cycles, Myths and Hymns is concurrently confronting and uplifting. Focusing on a theme of reevaluation, Steward and his team take a bold step presenting this relatively unknown piece on a new and exciting stage. A show that gently implores it’s audience to assess themselves, Steward hopes that “ people can find an element of the show they relate with, whether it be the questioning that we all subject ourselves to based on our decisions and life choices, or whether it’s an understanding or empathy to the characterisation and nuances of each performer. Myths and Hymns challenges us to analyse our choices, but really, it’s asking us to accept ourselves and be prepared to take risks and strive for our goals.”
Thursday, 16th February 2012 – Saturday, 25th February 2012
Myths and Hymns by Adam Guettel (Australian Premiere)
Presented by Groove Tonic Melbourne
@ Revolt Melbourne – 12 Elizabeth Street, Kensington
Feb 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24 & 25 @ 8pm
Book www.revoltproductions.com or 9376 2115