Tomorrow, William Finn ’74 brings his latest musical to San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse for its world premiere. Finn is partnered once again with his 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee collaborator, James Lapine, to create “a very free adaptation” of 2006’s Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine for the stage. SoCal Ephs can see the musical through the end of the month, at ticket prices from $44 to $100.
Finn and Lapine stress the many ways in which the musical will take the story beyond the film:
Lapine, who is directing and writing the book, and Finn, who is writing the score, say they see lots of chances to expand the story and the storytelling by reimagining them theatrically. “It turns out to be a very funny and emotional show,” says Finn. “Which the movie was too. But with music, it’s emotional to a different degree.”
“What’s attractive is that these characters can sing,” Lapine says. “A lot of people choose material where you don’t expect or want the characters to sing, but here you feel like they are able to express themselves musically.”
“And they have something to sing about,” adds Finn, noting the abundance of hang-ups, hopes and heartache. He says he tried to compose “a romantic score that was funny” with songs that, says Lapine, “offer different vantage points” than the film did.
In one flashback, Richard and Sheryl are high school students courting in the VW bus that they would later drive to Redondo Beach. “In the film they’re quite contentious with each other,” Lapine says, “and I’m sure the original author had his own notion of their back story. We wanted the audience to feel that here is a couple whose romance has gone astray and this trip rekindles the spark.”
Creating such moments is part of what he calls “the art of adaptation,” which entails “figuring out the ‘routine-ing’ of a show — deciding what’s going to be sung or expressed in music and what should be expressed in dialogue. You have to break the story down emotionally.”
Finn’s vision of Sunshine is an optimistic one:
I’m sick of being depressed every time I go to the theater,” said Finn, 58. “I just wanted to write something delicious.”
”The world stinks,” the famously terse Finn said during rehearsals at the Playhouse . “I want to be thrilled and delighted, and this story was so full of delightful characters, with this little ray of sunshine right in the middle.”
Finn and Lapine hope that La Jolla is only the first step on the road to another Broadway opening. Based on Broadway producers’ love for adaptations with a built-in base of fans, the prospects seem pretty good.