In Nashville, there’s an Urban Outfitters that used to be an empty warehouse in a sketchy neighborhood where I performed my first adaptation of The Metamorphosis. It was 2001 (a few weeks after 9/11) and on a good night, we probably had about 25 people there. I could never have imagined a) that I’d live past 40, b) that I’d still be tinkering with Franz Kafka’s novella, or c) that we’d be gearing up for a short run of a musical version of the show at Capital Fringe. It’s all very surreal, but somehow that seems appropriate.
I’ve been fascinated with Kafka and this story since I was a teenager and it still packs a punch. Performing in a radio play about Orson Welles at the Montreal Fringe Festival and with my head full of show tunes thanks to my Broadway-obsessed daughter, I joked at some bar that I’d be back someday with a musical version of The Metamorphosis. In the light of morning, the whole idea of a musical based on this story was so ridiculous, terrifying, absurd, and wonderful that it was too tempting an opportunity to pass up. Adding to the sheer, reckless impossibility of the task was the fact that I’m only a passable guitar player, had never written a musical, and was a little hungover.
I hope that we can do service to the story and to the writer who would have hopefully laughed the loudest.
But the amazing impossibility of attempting something like this seemed commensurate with the sheer impossibility of a guy in Prague in 1918 writing a story about a cockroach and his family of humans, so what the hell. I figured it might some day make a funny anecdote at parties or a headscratching line in my bio. Along came my friend and colleague Travis Newton, whose genius artistry turned a handful of poorly-played songs on my guitar into an actual musical and somehow, here we are.
The folks in Montreal seemed to like the beta-version of the show last summer so we thought we’d push our luck for another year and give Capital Fringe a try. After this, we head to NYC for readings at the New York Musical Festival, and then to who knows where. I’m just along for the ride at this point, and eager for feedback and to hopefully sell some CD’s.
This is hardly the first adaption of Kafka’s Metamorphosis (it’s not even the first musical version of it. Not even the first musical version to perform at Capital Fringe!!), but I think that the sheer number of iterations and adaptations that this quirky little novella has inspired is testament to Kafka’s precocious genius. Generations of artists have been moved to take a crack at reimagining his oddly prescient story and to bring it to life in a thousand different mediums.
Whether you relate to Gregor or his family (or both) there’s something for everyone in the story, and we can all relate to both the humor and the horror of the Samsa’s surreal situation. Plus, music! And puppets! When combined with the story of his tragically short life and his infamous “Dearest Father” letter, we hope that we’ve put together a musical that balances, as Kafka did back in 1918, entertainment with alienation and absurdity with empathy.
“Kafkaesque” is a term that has come to mean many different things. It connotes something needlessly complicated, or pointlessly bureaucratic, but it can also suggest something that’s so painfully ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. Though the creation of this musical may have started as a joke, I hope that we can do service to the story and to the writer who would have hopefully laughed the loudest.
I love love love fringe festivals. I’ve seen some inspiring genius artistry and some thoroughly passionate “attempts” at genius and I’ve loved them all. Capital Fringe is somewhat legendary and it’s an honor for us to be performing this weird little musical in the Nation’s capital. The story is as timely as it ever was, and even 100 years after it was written, still as oddly compelling and confounding. Fringe audiences embrace the compelling and confounding and theatre audiences in D.C. in general are an adventurous group. We’re excited to see what happens. Come see us for the first weekend only at Capital Fringe!