I never thought I'd end up doing this, but I've always been inclined toward music,"" said Adam Guettel in an interview last year with Time Out New York. ""I was a professional boy soprano, and then I started playing electric bass with a rock band and upright bass as a jazz musician, then I wrote jingles, industrials and documentary scores. It's probably the worst idea for me to be composing musicals. What am I doing trying to get along in the same field that my grandfather did so well in?""
Guettel's grandfather was Richard Rodgers, and Guettel's mother is Mary Rodgers. But Adam Guettel is very much his own man. ""Guettel is an original,"" wrote Hap Erstein in the Palm Beach Post. In Adam Guettel, reported Entertainment Weekly's Chip Deffaa, ""a vital new musical-theater writer has emerged.""
Adam Guettel is among the newest writers to be signed by Williamson Music. (Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, songwriters of the hit Off-Broadway revue, I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE, were also recently signed by Williamson, and will be profiled in a later issue.) ""Adam Guettel is a gifted composer,"" says Williamson Music President Maxyne Berman Lang. ""The rave reviews for FLOYD COLLINS [his New York premiere] attest to that. But he is also - like his mother, and his grandfather - a theatre composer, and that unique species is especially welcomed here at Williamson Music."" Affirming Lang's comment, Guettel confessed to Time Out: ""I'm not interested in art. I'm interested in entertainment. I'm still linked to the tradition I come from.""
R&H President Ted Chapin recalls: ""The first time I saw FLOYD COLLINS in Philadelphia, it was on a bare stage with minimal...everything. I was so taken with it that I wrote Adam a long letter on the train ride home. The theatricality of the show, and Adam's ability to link familiar musical motifs with modern musical thinking was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. Familial connection or not, it is an honor for us to represent this extraordinary new voice.""
Guettel's credits reflect a mixture of interesting, challenging theatre projects along with musical assignments far from the stage. A Yale University graduate, winner of that school's Concerto Competition, and a 1990 Stephen Sondheim Award winner, Guettel has composed musical scores for PBS and CBS television documentaries, provided underscoring for both animated short and full-length feature films, and created a concerto for jazz quartet and orchestra.
His stage scores have included a full-length operatic version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (in collaboration with Tina Landau), a one-act opera based on Dr. Seuss's THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK, a ballet with Randolyn Zinn entitled DREAM AND VARIATIONS, incidental music for Circle Rep's JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, and the score for LOVE AND ANGER at New York Theatre Workshop.
Guettel's breakthrough work was FLOYD COLLINS, a musical based on the true-life story of a Kentucky cave explorer trapped underground for days, and the media circus that sprang up around his tragic plight. (See Happy Talk, Vol. 4, No. 3). Commissioned by The American Music Theater Festival, which produced its world premiere in 1994, FLOYD COLLINS featured music and lyrics by Guettel, with additional lyrics, book and direction by Tina Landau. Two years later it was presented Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons to critical acclaim, earning several year-end prizes for Best Musical, and leading to a gloriously produced cast album from Nonesuch Records. It also marked an auspicious New York debut for Adam Guettel.
""Mr. Guettel establishes himself as a young composer of strength and sophistication,"" said Ben Brantley in the New York Times, ""weaving strands from the Americana of Copland and the uneasy dissonance of Sondheim."" In Newsday Jan Stuart called Guettel's work ""one of the three or four truly great music theater scores of the last decade.""In New York Magazine, John Simon called FLOYD COLLINS ""the original and daring musical of our day, concerned with saying something in words and music.""
""I can't wait to hear what Guettel comes up with next,"" wrote Jeremy Gerard of Variety. New pieces include SATURN RETURNS, a theatre oratorio for New York's Public Theatre; FUGUE STATE, a one-act music theater piece for Playwrights Horizons; and a song cycle for two-time Tony winner, Audra McDonald. With Guettel's career in high gear, has the stigma of nepotism finally been left behind?
""The wunderkind factor was a great pressure for me [growing up],"" Guettel admitted to the Village Voice last year. ""And I have to say, when I turned 30 and I was still obscure, it was depressing - and a tremendous relief, because it's really hard to be precocious and be 31.""
To Adam Guettel, overnight sensation: welcome."