A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
The Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre has opened the first show of its 26th season with “Floyd Collins,” a haunting musical based on true events. The show will be on stage through September 24th at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach, Florida. For reservations, call (904) 249-9177 or visit abettheatre.com.
The musical, with book by Tina Laundau and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, was directed by Erik DeCicco; Aaron DeCicco was the musical director.
The story is that of William Floyd Collins, who was a cave explorer in Central Kentucky where miles and miles of underground caverns exist within what is now Mammoth Cave National Park. The Collins family owned land which included a cave discovered by Floyd in 1917. While the family maintained the cave as a tourist attraction, it was not overly profitable because of its location. Collins continued with his explorations, hoping to find a new entrance to Mammoth Cave, which would be more accessible to tourists and bring wealth to his family. While exploring alone in the winter in 1925, he became trapped sixty feet underground when a large rock fell on his foot and he was pinned in place.
The action in the musical takes place from January 30 – February 16, 1925 as Floyd’s plight becomes known and rescue efforts become a tremendous media event, with world-wide coverage by radio and the press.
Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) has an outstanding cast of eleven to tell this spell-binding story that is a legendary part of American history. Josh Waller, who plays the doomed Floyd, uses his award-winning singing voice and superb acting talents to bring this character from another era alive.
Michael Yarick makes his community theatre debut as Homer, Floyd’s younger brother. He has an excellent voice and has appeared in a number of leading roles at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. Award-winning actor Bill Ratliff is intense as Lee Collins, Floyd’s troubled father.
There are two women in the cast. Charly Adams, seen recently in Theatre Jacksonville’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is a musical theatre student at Jacksonville University. She displays her fine voice as Nellie, Floyd’s concerned and caring sister. Maya Adkins portrays Miss Jane, his stepmother. Ms. Adkins has appeared in such shows as “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and “Batboy,” and you will often see her name in programs crediting her photographic work.
Actor Eric Yarham plays a pivotal role as Skeets Miller, a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who was the only man slight enough to crawl through the narrow passage from the surface to talk with Floyd. Of note, Mr. Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for his press coverage. Henry Tucker Carmichael is another outsider, an authoritative construction boss who comes up with a plan to rescue Floyd. Award-winning actor and director Del Austin is picture perfect for this role in his return to the stage after too long an absence. Kyle Geary rounds out the cast as reporter Cliff Roney.
The challenging but beautiful music has outstanding musicians with various instruments. Erin Barnes is on piano. We have seen her in other roles as musical director, and as a featured performer in “The Addams Family” and “South Pacific.
Multi-instrumentalist Peter Michael Mosley is on bass. Philip Pan, who was Concertmaster of the Jacksonville Symphony from 1984 to 2017, amazed the audience on the violin. We mentioned Jacob Schuman as a member of the cast; he also plays the guitar, and has appeared as a guitarist in a number of local musicals on several stages.
The unique set design by Erik DeCicco, Gordon Frank, and Charly Adams is in two parts. Along the rear wall is the cave with crawl space at the top for getting to the entrapped Floyd. Act Two takes place at the front of the stage and depicts the carnival atmosphere at the cave’s entrance, which includes locals selling balloons, food, and souvenirs to multitudes of visitors.
There are seventeen songs that tell the story. Our favorites were in Act Two; “Is That Remarkable” and “The Carnival” had humor and were the most light-hearted of the compositions.
The talented Amy Tillotson is an award-winning costumer (Pelican Award for “La Cage Aux Folles”) who did the excellent period costumes for the show. She also frequently stage manages productions, as she does here. And as a performer, we thought she was hilarious in Limelight Theatre’s production of “The Nance” last season.
When you attend this dynamic musical, you will have the opportunity to bid on a fantastic book that features complete information on every production in the 25 years the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre has been in existence. The book was compiled and printed by The Shepherd Agency, who has created all those marvelous show posters for ABET through the years.
“Floyd Collins” is a remarkable musical that tells a remarkable story. Don’t miss it.