PRE-FRINGE PROFILE: Pullman Car Hiawatha

SHOW TITLE: Pullman Car Hiawatha
PRODUCER: Blue Water Theatre Company
SHOW DESCRIPTION: An inventive musical score revitalizes one of Thornton Wilder’s most obscure plays. Musings on life and death are viewed on the scale of the cosmos to the common – all on a train ride from New York to Chicago.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: Keywords in that show description: “Musings.” “Life.” “Death.” “Cosmos.” I spent enough time reading Carl Sagan growing up that it’s practically a Pavlovian response for me now.

Just who do you think you are, anyway?

I’m a theatre geek and music lover who loves shows that are old, forgotten, genre-bending, or controversial! Some of my greatest theatre influences are the works of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Thornton Wilder, Bertolt Brecht, and Kurt Weill. This fall, I’m going to be studying directing at Emerson College in Boston.

So what’s the big idea?

We started with a weird, somewhat trippy one-act play that Thornton Wilder wrote in 1930. And, trust me, it is REALLY weird. A bunch of people are on a train going from New York to Chicago. We start with their interactions with one another, but then things get strange. We hear their thoughts. We hear monologues delivered by the fields and towns that the train is passing through. We talk with the hours of the night that we are currently in. We listen to the planets that are in alignment at this moment. And then we’re back on the train arriving in Chicago, and the play ends. Using that as our base, we’ve added an awesome musical score, with a sound ranging from opera to folk, and some new lyrics to augment the original text.

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?

The source material is a flawed masterpiece. The plot is nearly non-existent, the characters don’t really have clear motivators, and the show doesn’t have much of an overarching “shape” to it — it just sort of “is.” Since the original show has a lot of musical elements within it already, we felt that the best way to get this piece to connect with audiences again was to set it to music. The music clarifies the emotions, streamlines the plot, and gives the show a stronger foundation to build its ideas on. Plus, who doesn’t love a musical? 🙂

Why should I care?

We’ve taken a play by one of the greatest American playwrights of all time (which on its own is already one of the strangest and most avant-garde pieces of theatre out there) and have transformed it into something even better. New, exciting, and complex music by a local composer, a ridiculously skilled live orchestra, a talented and versatile cast, and source material written by Thornton Wilder. Why WOULDN’T you want to see it.

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.

A play by Wilder,
enhanced with great new music,
makes for a fine night!


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