Extraordinary to see the grandson of Richard Rodgers stroll over to a microphone in the Hippodrome’s Matcham Room and start in with the “country scat” of his first masterpiece Floyd Collins. More extraordinary still to hear it echo back as if we were on the threshold of a cave not a casino. The amazing thing about Guettel singing his own stuff is that you suddenly get totally where it’s come from and why it sounds the way it does.
I once sat in his new York studio watching him extemporise on the opening measures of The Light in the Piazza. This was long before its Tony triumph at the Lincoln Center and the piano was his grandfather’s – Richard Rodgers. The music was ravishing, of course (the piano adding echantment), but it was music that seemed to evolve in the playing and singing of it. So when Guettel sings it you hear and feel its origins.
Sitting with me last night was the very talented Lucy Schaufer who played Margaret in the European Premiere of the show at the Leicester Curve (how disgraceful it has not yet been seen in London) and is at this moment preparing her appetising debut album (details of its intriguing content to follow) – including a hitherto never heard version of Margaret’s second act reprise of the key number “The Beauty Is”. Today she and the composer were trading notes and sounds on the musical theatre reprise as DRAMA. There are extraordinary tensions in Piazza, collisions of joy and heartache that come from the same musical template. Guettel’s favourite song from his grandfather’s show On Your Toes is “Glad to be Unhappy” where the saddest words – “I’m so unhappy” – are set to the most ecstatic music. It’s that tension he wanted to achieve in Piazza.
Meanwhile back on stage at the Matcham Room Guettel and guests Jonathan Ansell and a heavily pregnant Caroline Sheen were reminding us of its glories. Does anyone else write rangier vocal lines? Guettel’s encore was one of my favourite songs of his – “Awaiting You” from Myths and Hymns – where expectancy is taken so far into the stratosphere of the head-voice that it’s truly spiritual. The man’s a genius.
And what about the tantalising morsels we were offered from two shows-in-progress – adaptations of “Millions” and “Days of Wine and Roses” – the former looking like it could soon have legs. Talk about anticipation.