From the Hartford Courant:
Tina Landau says she got involved with the new musical "Deathless" "roughly six months ago. I forget." She laughs. "In this show, time has no meaning."
"Deathless" is a new musical at Goodspeed Musical's Norma Terris Theatre that links a human story to a fantastical concept. A family is going on a road trip. They live in a world where, if you take a certain pill, you can live forever.
But Landau, who's making her Goodspeed debut as director of this new musical, "there's nothing futuristic about it. This is a realistic play. Its world is recognizable to our world, except for this one element. The story is grounded in personal interaction. There's this whole metaphysical landscape it sets up."
Zack Zadek wrote the book, the music and the lyrics for the show. He's a highly regarded young writer/composer who's won a number of awards and fellowships and has several other musical projects currently in the works.
Landau is one of the most acclaimed directors of new works in the country. She's a company member of the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, which is where she first met Goodspeed Executive Director Michael Gennaro. "He was the managing director there when I did my first show at Steppenwolf in '97. Then we did two shows together at Paper Mill [Playhouse in New Jersey]."
Previously in Connecticut, Landau directed a dreamy, spare production of Noah Haidle's "Rag & Bone" at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II in 2005, Paula Vogel's epic holiday history show "A Civil War Christmas" on the Long Wharf main stage in 2008, Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" at Hartford Stage in 2010 and Christina Anderson's voodoo drama "Good Goods" at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2012. She attended Yale in the early 1980s.
Landau has numerous New York credits, including a revival of "Bells Are Ringing" in 2001, Bill Irwin and David Shiner's recent clown revue "Old Hats," the forthcoming "Spongebob Musical" (which she co-conceived) and the off-Broadway production of the influential modern musical "Floyd Collins" (for which she also wrote the book) back in 1996. But she says she has a special affection for regional theaters. "No matter what you tell yourself, there is an increased pressure in New York, and an increased freedom [elsewhere], especially with a piece like this."
"Don't underestimate how amazing it is to work surrounded by trees," Landau says. "At the Goodspeed, you can drive across the Connecticut River and contemplate the day's work while looking at the sunset."
"My agent brought me this piece," she says of "Deathless." "He said, 'It's small, it's Goodspeed, but take a listen — you never know.'" She found the musical to be "accessible, fresh. Steeped in Americana."
"Deathless" evokes a car ride to Niagara Falls, but it's also a modest, intermissionless, small-cast production geared to intimacy. There is intentionally "very little in terms of sets or props," Landau says. The Goodspeed premiere stars Jennifer Damiano (Broadway's "Next to Normal," Spring Awakening," "Spider-Man" and "American Psycho"), Sean Allan Krill (lots of cool regional credits, plus "Mamma Mia" on Broadway and on tour), Kelli Barrett, Jessica Phillips (another New York "Next to Normal" veteran) and Johnny Shea, a Connecticut native who recently graduated from the musical theater program at Ithaca College. Landau calls them all "really superb actors. They sing beautifully, but they're approaching the text as it were a play text."
Before to this staging (which is considered developmental and is not open to critics), Landau was involved with a reading of "Deathless" and has seen some of Zadek's rewrites.
"It's still new to me. Anytime I direct anything, whether new or not, I feel that how it goes or what we do gets reinvented from scratch. We're really in the process of making this. I want the piece to speak to people. That's what matters to me."
Landau says the particular trick with "Deathless" is "finding the exact right balance of humor, emotion and theatricality."