Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Floyd Collins
La Mirada Theatre

Also see Terry's review of Recall

Jonah Platt and Mark Whitten
Floyd Collins is not an easy show to direct. The show's protagonist spends the majority of the play trapped underground in a cave and Adam Guettel's score—which is discordant at times—can be a difficult sell. The last time I saw a production of the show in Los Angeles, I came out humming the direction of Richard Israel, who approached the task with skill, creativity and confidence, putting together a surprisingly effective production of the musical in a small space.

Now, some nine years later, Israel is back, in a larger space, taking another swing at the show, and the results are even better. First, a word on the space. The show takes place on the stage of the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts; however, the audience is on the stage, too. La Mirada has created a small space in its huge space, by curtaining off the wings and the house, and placing seating on three sides of the stage. The result is a theatre that is simultaneously huge and intimate. The audience is close enough to read facial expressions, but the show can take advantage of the large stage's massive vertical space, enabling designer Rich Rose to construct a set which suggests the cave ceiling towering over everyone.

The production is splendidly sung—there is not a note out of place—and, what's more, it's quite well acted. Indeed, the cast seemed to fully inhabit their characters; Kara McLeod's dead-on costumes are surely a big part of it, but I've never before seen a Floyd Collins where everyone just looked the part.

Mark Whitten infuses his Floyd with optimism—he's enthusiastic about searching for the cave that's going to make his fortune, and his cheerful attitude toward life's tight scrapes will serve him well when he gets caught in one he cannot escape. At one point, Whitten's Floyd almost cries with joy; he doesn't, but glimpsing the fleeting expression is a beautiful insight into the man. When Floyd is trapped, his panic is palpable. Although his hopeful attitude generally takes over forcibly, his moments of absolute terror are disquieting to watch.

The supporting player who nearly steals the show is Josey Montana McCoy as Skeets Miller, the young reporter who is small enough to crawl down to where Floyd is trapped and write the newspaper stories that would captivate a nation. McCoy gets your attention with "I Landed on Him," which is probably the most difficult number in the show. The music is particularly dissonant, and the lyrics are Miller's frightened, gasping explanation of having been underground with the trapped man, and his simultaneous relief at not being trapped himself. We had last seen Miller, in his sharp city suit, saying he would go down the cave opening; he now appears, covered in dirt, and throws himself on the ground as though the shaft had spit him out. By design, the show never spends much time dwelling on Floyd's horror at being buried alive; but we do see it in Miller, in this number, and it is perfectly executed.

When we next see Miller, the city suit is gone; he's wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, like the locals, although you get the feeling that these are too-big jeans Miller has borrowed. He didn't initially sign up for joining the people of Barren County, Kentucky, in their attempt to free Floyd with hand tools, but Miller's first experience with Floyd changed him. Sure, he brings a pad and pencil down the hole with him, and takes notes for his stories; but Miller wants to save Floyd, not just write about him, and this ultimately differentiates him from all the other reporters who aren't willing to get their hands dirty.

Many of the remaining characters also have their own subplots. Some, such as that of Floyd's father Lee and his issues holding his family together, don't entirely gel. It's as though book writer Tina Landau realized that the only way this show was going to work was to not focus entirely on the man in the cave. But Lee's subplot isn't developed enough to really hit home. There's more to the story of Floyd's brother Homer, although here, it's the execution that keeps the subplot from shining. At the beginning, Homer wants to buy a car, move away, and become one of the city folk. But, by the end, when the city bigwig running the rescue, H.T. Carmichael, kicks Homer out of the (now failing) rescue operation, Homer's eyes are opened. Homer is given a song, "Git Comfortable," which is a vicious attack on Carmichael and his misguided belief in his own superiority. I would have preferred more despair-driven anger in Jonah Platt's delivery of the song. After all, Carmichael's incompetence has very likely killed Homer's brother—but Platt takes a less vicious approach. He is much more successful with "The Riddle Song," a duet Homer sings with Floyd while Homer is trying to widen the tunnel to reach his brother. He taps out the song's rhythm while hitting the chisel, and the two men realize that sharing happy childhood memories is the best way to distract themselves from the truth of Floyd's situation.

Floyd's sister Nellie also has a story. She has recently been released from the asylum—Kim Huber pronounces every syllable in "au-to-mo-bile," as though Nellie has to take care to hold on to such a long word at one time. Nellie is frustrated because, unlike the men, she is not permitted to go into the cave to try to see her brother, nor can she take part in the rescue effort. But she shares a close connection with Floyd—one imagines he is generally her protector—and if she could will him out of the cave (which Nellie may well think she can), she would. Huber's voice has no trouble with Guettel's achingly beautiful score, and she also delivers Nellie's somewhat bizarre beliefs with absolute conviction.

The production's effectiveness flags a bit in the second act with the underdeveloped Lee plotline and Homer's being wooed by the motion pictures both serving as unnecessary distractions. But the first act is near perfection, and the show's final number so neatly ties in with what came before that these issues are easily forgiven.

Floyd Collins runs at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through April 13, 2014. For tickets and information, see

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts presents Floyd Collins. Book by Tina Landau; Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel; Additional Lyrics by Tina Landau. Scenic Design Rich Rose; Costume Design Kara McLeod; Lighting Design Lisa D. Katz; Sound Design Josh Bessom; Properties Design Terry Hanrahan; Casting Director Julia Flores; Technical Director David Cruise; Publicist David Elzer/DEMAND PR. Assistant Stage Manager Nicole Wessel; Production Stage Manager Donna R. Parsons. Musical Direction by David O; Directed by Richard Israel.

Floyd Collins —Mark Whitten
Bee Doyle —Gary Lee Reed
Ed Bishop —Jay Donnell
Jewell Estes —Matt Magnusson
Lee Collins —Larry Lederman
Miss Jane —Victoria Strong
Nellie Collins —Kim Huber
Homer Collins —Jonah Platt
Skeets Miller —Josey Montana McCoy
H.T. Carmichael —Joe Hart
Cliff Roney —Michael Halloer
Dr. Hazlett —Zach Spound
Frederick Jordan —Michael Byrne

Photo: Michael Lamont

- Sharon Perlmutter