I make a policy of not reviewing amateur productions on Musicals101. Mind you, I have tremendous respect for such productions -- heck, I can literally say that I wrote the book on them (The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amateur Theatricals). But student and community theatre groups have far different goals than professional theatres, and the pressure of facing reviewers could warp that process. However, every now and then I see an amateur production so stunning that I can't help posting a comment -- and Musicals101's new blog seems the perfect place to do that.
Because I currently teach musical theatre history at NYU's Steinhardt School, I make a point of catching as many of their productions as possible. Last night, I saw their staging of Floyd Collins, a show which has inspired a great deal of analysis since it debuted off-Broadway in 1995. Many were amazed that the true story of the 1925 media circus surrounding a trapped cave explorer could be turned into an effective musical. Composer-lyricist Adem Guettel's score is often beautiful but extremely challenging, both to performers and audiences. It must be performed with precision and style, and few amateur groups can muster the kind of singing actors required to make this material shine.
Well, the Steinhardt production set the stage aglow from first to last. While the entire production (under the gifted direction of John Simpkins) was laudable, three cast members in particular made this a riveting experience. Jeremy Morse brought extraordinary passion to the role of reporter Skeets Miller, Nic Rouleau played Homer Collins with real vocal and dramatic power, and Jay Armstrong Johnson was not merely good in the title role -- he held an audience's attention even while essentially motionless. His singing made the Stravinsky-esque twists of the score sound effortless, and overall displayed genuine star quality. Keep an eye out for all three of these men in years to come -- and you can say you first read about them here.
(Hey, don't laugh -- the last time I wrote a comment like that, it was for an unknown kid named John Lloyd Young, who was acting out in the wilds of New Jersey. As I recall, he picked up a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical a few years later. )
Am I partial because I teach at Steinhardt? Perhaps. But I think I know when I see great talent in action, and that's exactly what I saw last night.