Oct 9, 2014

Fortress Goes Public

The cast of The Fortress of Solitude at Dallas Theater Center (photo by Karen Almond)
I've been hearing about this Fortress of Solitude musical for nearly as long as it's been in development. I think Itamar Moses told me about it for this LA Times piece, but I'm pretty sure that Isaac Butler--a huge fan of the novel and a friend of all the musical's creators, including Moses, director Daniel Aukin, and composer Michael Friedman--tipped me off about it earlier. Aukin mentioned it when I spoke to him for the NY Times, too.

In any case, this unlikely project has reached fruition and has is playing at the Public Theater, and for my Times preview on it, I talked to all the creators, and to the novel's original author, Jonathan Lethem. The idea to adapt Lethem's sprawling coming-of-age story, set in the crucible of pre-gentrification Brooklyn, came from the director:
The prominence of music in the novel is one reason Mr. Aukin, the show’s director, had a “gut impulse” that it could be turned into a piece of musical theater, and enlisted Mr. Moses (“Bach at Leipzig,” “Nobody Loves You”) to adapt the book and Mr. Friedman to write the music. Mr. Aukin happened to approach Mr. Lethem at a fortuitous moment: at a time when Hollywood was contemplating but not committing to film adaptations of his novels, including “The Fortress of Solitude,” and the author was getting fed up with film companies’ demands for exclusivity.
“I had to insist that it was O.K. to split off the musical rights,” Mr. Lethem said in a phone interview from Pomona College, where he teaches writing. To the film companies, “I said, ‘You’re not even making these movies, so let these little theater people do this thing.’ It was seen as a diversion, a sport.
“So it’s a beautiful irony that long before any film version comes to the screen, they’re the ones who are getting it done. It vindicates every left-field impulse you could have.” 
The Times piece is almost entirely about Friedman's extraordinary, pop-drenched score, and I have to acknowledge Butler--who's seen several readings and heard demos over the years as the show's evolved--for the inside scoop on that. To report this story I went to my first sitzprobe--a musical-theater ritual in which the full orchestration comes to life for the first time--and I sat in awe of the musicianship of, in particular, barefooted music director Kim Grigsby, a legendary figure who has clearly earned that status.

The full Times story is here; I'm planning to have "bonus tracks" in this space soon, so stay tuned.

No comments: