Composer Adam Guettel – why he is drawn to cabaret

Adam Guettel

Adam Guettel appears in concert and conversation with Maria Friedman as part of the London Festival of Cabaret of which he is a patron

Composer, lyricist, performer, teacher and conservationist, Adam Guettel, a patron of the 2014 London Festival of Cabaret, will appear in concert and conversation with Maria Friedman at the Ambassadors Theatre on 20 and 21 May.

Guettel’s musical The Light In The Piazza premiered on Broadway in 2005 and received six Tony Awards. Guettel also wrote music and lyrics for Floyd Collins, which received the 1996 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical and won him the Obie Award for Best Music. His other works include Love’s Fire and Myths and Hymns (aka Saturn Returns). Guettel is currently working on four new musicals and an opera.

As the son of composer Mary Rodgers and film and theatre producer Henry Guettel, the grandson of composer Richard Rodgers and the godson of writer and director Arthur Laurents, was it inevitable that you would take up a career in musical theatre?

For all the reasons you mention, at first I ran screaming from a life in the theatre. It just seemed like suicide. But once I succumbed I enjoyed it. Life is like melody, I guess; you try to follow expectation with surprise.

You will be talking and performing with Maria Friedman in the London Festival of Cabaret. Presumably you will be playing piano with Maria and the band, but will you also be singing?

I will be playing guitar for Maria and singing. But piano, no. For some reason, my fingers go on strike when I play piano in public. The keys look like a throng of angry strangers at a rail station. Mercifully, I only play piano in private.

In the Festival you and Maria will be performing your favourite songs. No doubt you have plenty of titles from which to choose, possibly songs by your grandfather and your mother too? And will you perhaps be singing some of your own songs?

We are going to do mostly my music. But Maria and I have some lovely songs by others that will be floating in the air. As the evening takes shape, it seems to want to be about tunes themselves; what are they? Why do we carry them our entire lives?

Cabaret appears to be flourishing in London, what do you think makes the art-form so special. What made you want to become a patron?

Cabaret is special because it’s impossibly intimate. There’s no scrim of narrative protecting the performer or the audience. The fourth wall is missing. We’re in each other’s laps. So the risk is enormous and I’m drawn to that.

Your shows Floyd Collins and Myths and Hymns (aka Saturn Returns) have gained quite a following in the UK, have you seen any of the productions staged?

I see them from time to time, but it feels a touch depressing to be wandering around seeing productions of my shows. I try to focus on new work. I have so much I want to do.

Your biggest theatre success, The Light in the Piazza, which won six Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, has played all around the world. Were you surprised by its international interest and success? And are there any plans for further productions?

There have been discussions about doing Piazza on the moon, in the Mariana Trench, and everywhere in between. I’m always surprised and grateful when it actually happens.

Some of the projects you announced in the past include Millions, from the Danny Boyle film, Days of Wine and Roses, the Jack Lemmon film, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man, and an opera based on the stories of Washington Irving. Are any of them still in the pipeline or on the back burner?

Millions is first in line and coming along well. We are doing a workshop this summer. Bob Martin is doing the book and he’s a joy to work with; funny and imaginative.

Rodgers & Hammerstein were revolutionary in their day, bringing realism to the Broadway musical. Do you think that you, as part of the next generation of composers, are producing works just as revolutionary now as their shows were in your grandfather’s day?


Do you get much time now to pursue your interests in environmental conservation? If so, it sounds like a good theme for a piece of musical theatre by Adam Guettel, don’t you agree?

I’m very glad you asked about that. No one ever does. I spend as much time as I can on conservation. When I have nothing left to say as a writer, which could be this afternoon, I’ll have something important to which I can devote myself entirely. Conservation is crucial, but campaign finance reform is really the central issue in our country. And yes, it would make a wonderful musical for an audience of like three people.

And finally… what are your favourite musicals of all time?

Well, let’s start with the original Babes in Arms.

 Compiled by Michael Darvell

Readers may also be interested in:

London Festival of Cabaret 2014 line-up revealed – News

* Adam Guettel and Maria Friedman in Concert & Conversation will be performed at the Ambassadors Theatre, London on 20 and 21 May


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