Landless Theatre Company is developing its second Metal musical: the Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd was the first. Melissa Baughman, resident director and Associate Producing Director for Landless, is the woman behind Landless’ Metal Theatre projects. We’ve seen her work with countless Landless musicals, often with her husband Andrew Baughman in the lead. Since this is the first time we’ve interviewed her, let’s start with Melissa’s description of how she views her work:
Melissa Baughman: My motives in theatre are to always introduce new people to the theatre. I want people who would have never thought of coming in to see a play or musical to take that chance and enjoy themselves. I’m a storyteller by nature, so for me, sharing stories with people who are not being tapped into is key.
Lorraine Treanor: Give us three words to describe Metal music.
Melissa: Heavy Guitars, Loud, Percussive
Lorraine: And .. Symphonic Metal?
Melissa: Symphonic Metal is all of those things, but it has elements of classical brought to the forefront, such as operatic vocals, piano, violin, it often has a synth that creates symphonic sounds as well.
Lorraine: How long have you been a Metal fan? What are your favorite Metal bands?
Melissa: I have been a fan of Metal since I was 11. I have lots of favorites, but a few are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, Type O Negative, Queensryche, the list kind of just continues because there are so many great Metal bands in so many different genres of Metal.
Lorraine: Back when Landless was resident in DCAC, you and Andrew delighted us with edgy musicals that might have been candidates for a Metal Theatre makeover – I’m thinking of Evil Dead: The Musical and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog…. but there were so many. What do you look for in a musical that starts you thinking about Symphonic Metal. Is it the story? Is it the score?
Melissa: Sometimes it’s the story and sometimes it’s the nature of the score. We look for musicals that are much more traditional, older to do a Metal Theatre spin. Metal and Classical are really not that far from each other when you compare the structure and the drama. So, older, more classical musicals tend to be a better match.
Lorraine: Sweeney Todd, for all its horror, seemed like a natural. Tell us how that came about.
Melissa: That idea to do Sweeney as a Metal Musical had been brewing in our heads for a while. It seemed like a good gateway for what we were trying to do. The story was dark, epic and the music is incredibly complex. It took very little to convince ourselves that this needed to happen.
Lorraine: And what did you learn from it?
Melissa: We learned that people are a whole lot more open to Metal Theatre than I thought! We also learned that it’s amazing what happens when you simply just ask a composer if you can do this. I think they want their pieces to live on and be open to new generations of audiences, so in that respect, they can see where we’re going with this.
Getting three nominations for Sweeney at Helen Hayes [Awards] was what told us that we had to keep going, that we weren’t totally crazy.
Lorraine: Your next Metal Theatre project is the Broadway hit The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It would seem this is a very different type of musical. Or is it?
Melissa: It is and it isn’t. The music, at first listen, doesn’t seem like it would be a match for a Metal Theatre spin, but when you start comparing it to other genres, it makes sense. I was listening to Helloween one day and it hit me that Drood was kind of similar at times and that it has some power metal elements in its structure; then I started to compare it to Nightwish and I saw how we could definitely transition some of the songs to fit symphonic metal as well.
Intrigued? Hear Landless’ Metal Drood here
Lorraine: What was the conversation like with its composer when you pitched the idea to him?
Melissa: Andrew approached Rupert Holmes and, he can probably tell the story better that I can, but from what I understand, Rupert was curious, probably scratched his head, but jumped on board.
Lorraine: What is the process for creating the Symphonic Metal score?
Melissa: You have to look at each song’s structure and then see how you can keep the integrity of the song while making it sound Metal. All I can tell you is that the Fleet Street Collective work their magic and make it so. I give feedback, and I may peek behind the curtain at what they do, but they are the geniuses who put it all together.
Lorraine: Is directing the new version any different than for you than if it were a traditional musical?
Melissa: It is absolutely not any different for me. I have a story to tell and, while the music is part of that story and it is quite changed, I don’t approach it any different.
Lorraine: Edwin Drood is in development, and is having workshop performances now at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn.
Melissa: It is a workshop in a sense that eventually we will do some tweaks to our arrangements, seeing what worked and what didn’t and then we will premiere it in DC hopefully next summer. Will it be a grand scale show compared to the workshop? No. We like the intimacy of the production and we would like to keep that, but getting the music to where we want it is what we’ll be working on.
Lorraine: It looks like some former Landless regulars are in the cast. Is that Karissa Swanigan in the photo? Tell us about the cast.
Melissa: Yes, that is Karissa, who we are super excited to be working with again. We are working with lots of familiar faces, which is great for us as a company. They know what we’re working at and they are all along for the ride. We do have a newcomer to our Metal Theatre tribe, Mary Patton, who some might recognize from the Legend of Zelda progpower metal band, Master Sword. If people have come to Landless shows, they will definitely see familiar faces ranging from the early days of Landless all the way to Sweeney.
Lorraine: So – what other musicals would you like to adapt?
Melissa: I would love to get my hands on Chess, but that is probably not going to happen! We keep our list pretty secret. It’s the element of surprise that I love. What I would love is to actually do an original Metal musical at some point, but we’ll see!
Lorraine: What do you think is the commercial future for Metal Theatre? Any plans for licensing or for recordings?
Melissa: I don’t know what that future is. I’m not looking at this like I’m creating a new genre of theatre that’s going to spread like wildfire. What I want to do is show people that theatre is not one thing. It can be many things. For me, this is my childhood dream come true. I love Metal and I want to share that. People have these ideas of what Metal is and what it represents and they are wrong. It is passionate music, with a flair for the dramatic, and can be incredibly complex. I want to share my passion and hopefully inspire others to do their own thing too.
Lorraine: Will we do any recordings or licensing?
Melissa: If it’s an adaptation of a preexisting musical, that’s really out of our control. So, people, get to the theatre to experience this now!
The Symphonic Metal version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood plays on weekends at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road Gaithersburg, MD 20878. Tickets are $25. Click here for tickets, or call 301-258-6394.