Adam Guettel ’87 said he initially felt ambivalent about following in the footsteps of his grandfather, famed musical composer Richard Rodgers. But as he played piano, sang and spoke about “Writing for the Stage” Monday, Guettel said he eventually found his place in musical theater.
Guettel, 38, spoke to 52 audience members about his experiences as a lyricist and composer during a Yale Elizabethan Club-sponsored talk. Since graduating from Yale, he has written the music and lyrics for several musicals, including “Floyd Collins,” the Yale Dramatic Association’s fall mainstage production, which will open on campus next Wednesday.
Guettel said he began work on the musical after he was approached by fellow creator Tina Landau ’84 with the real-life story of a man in Barren County, Ky., who was trapped in one of the many caves he liked exploring.
“Here was a guy whose only real sense of being happy was being in a cave, alone,” Guttel said. “This is where this guy thrived, and something in that spoke to me — I had something in common with Floyd.”
Guettel said he could also relate Collins’ experience with his own sense of feeling trapped by others’ expectations because of his musical “legacy.”
“I had this really famous grandfather that did really incredible stuff, and [I thought], ‘What if I don’t make it, what if I get trapped down there?'” Guettel said about what he perceived as the competitiveness of the musical writing profession.
New York University Musical Theater Program graduate Sam Carner ’01 traveled from his New York home to hear the lecture. He said he was impressed with the way Guettel spoke of his work.
“The musical theater scene feels very fractured now with Broadway-recycled ’80s pop [music] and other people writing avant garde pieces that no one wants to sit through,” said Carner. “[Guettel] seems [to be] someone who has an idea about the real and sustainable direction that musical theater will go in.”
In his lecture, Guettel spoke of the importance of “energy” to the ability of engaging in the creative process.
“The more I’m in the world, the more I realize there is only one thing, and that is energy,” he said.
English and theater professor Murray Biggs, who taught Guttel as an undergraduate, said he was glad to welcome back his former student.
“This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity of welcoming either a composer or a lyricist [as part of the lecture series],” said Biggs. “Given the production of ‘Floyd Collins’ on campus next week, this was the perfect opportunity to invite him.”
“Floyd Collins” cast member Aaron Lambert ’06, who attended the lecture with about 10 other cast members, said he looked forward to performing a musical with Guettel’s lyrics.
“I bought the ‘Floyd Collins’ CD when I was a junior in high school,” Lambert said. “I found his music very unique and inspiring in a way that a lot of musical lyrics aren’t.”
Lambert and fellow cast member Ethan Heard ’06 said they were delighted that Guettel will come to see the Dramat’s rendition of the show.
Guttel said he “can’t wait” to see the Dramat’s production.
Guettel’s speech was the 14th Maynard Mack Lecture. The lecture series bring playwrights, actors and directors to campus.