Despite a plot that sounds vaguely like a recent Hollywood blockbuster, don’t expect any severed arms in the Patrick Street Productions presentation of Floyd Collins, the musical based on the story of the 1925 Kentucky man trapped inside a cave.
“Nobody has brought up 127 Hours during rehearsals,” laughs Toronto native Michael Torontow who plays Floyd’s brother Homer in the musical bio-pic. “We’ve talked about Baby Jessica who got stuck in a well in the 1980s, and the Chilean miners, but not the movie.”
In retrospect though, the fact James Franco doesn’t rate a thought should come as no surprise since, while Floyd Collins is about a man trapped inside a cave, it is much more than a simple story of survival.
“The musical tells the story of the rescue, but also the media frenzy that surrounded it,” explains Torontow. “And at its heart, it really is about the glory that Floyd is searching for in life.”
Thought to be the first example of the media frenzies that are ubiquitous in our modern-day quest for instant information and 24-hour news cycles, it has been an eye-opening experience for Torontow.
“It really is disheartening in what we believe to be true sometimes and the spin that the media can put on things,” says Torontow who only has to look to social media to see modern-day parallels. “Even today with the ant-gay bill in Arizona it is interesting to see the stuff that you find on your Facebook feed and realize you need to do your own research to know what is real and what is not”.
Despite having been written twenty years ago, Floyd Collins is one of those shows that will have little name recognition outside musical theatre geek circles, but Torontow insists that should not prevent audiences from coming out to see it.
“You mention the name of the composer and nobody has heard of him,” says Torontow of Adam Guettel who is probably best known for the musical The Light in the Piazza, which Patrick Street Productions mounted in 2011. “The way we try to sell it is to talk about the heart-wrenching the story and how beautiful the music is.”
If that isn’t enough, Torontow also plays up the fact Guettel comes with a legitimate pedigree as the grandson of musical theatre genius Richard Rodgers. It will also help in knowing that the Tony award winner spent a day with the cast in rehearsal, an experience that Torontow, a longtime fan of the composer, called mind-blowing and life changing.
“One of the things he explained to us was how [Floyd Collins] paralleled his own life, with the legacy of his grandfather, feeling at times like he was stuck in a cave,” explains Torontow. “The great thing about Adam’s music is his music makes it easier for an actor, as he gives us the emotion in his music.”
Despite the emotional music though, winning over Torontow was no easy feat given he is not a huge country music fan, a genre that Guettel uses liberally through the show.
“I like the challenge of Adam’s music, but the way [Floyd Collins] is written you can’t just call this bluegrass and country music,” says Torontow. “Guettel goes for the emotion first.”
Floyd Collins plays The York Theatre March 11-30, 2014. Visit http://www.patrickstreetproductions.com for tickets and information.