Festival Show Update: Southern Comfort

This month, we checked in with Festival Alumni Julianne Wick Davis and Dan Collins about their 2012 Festival Show, Southern Comfort, heading to The Public Theater this February for an Off-Broadway run. Southern Comfort is also a past recipient of NAMT’s National Fund for New Musicals grant, having received a Production grant at Barrington Stage Co., a Project Development grant at CAP21 and a Writers Residency Grant at Playwrights Horizons.

Based on the Sundance Award-winning documentary, this heartwarming musical about a group of transgender friends living in rural Georgia is, at its core, a love story between their patriarch, Robert Eads, and newcomer Lola Cola. Through a unique folk and bluegrass-inspired score, the musical chronicles a year in the lives of this unique American family as they courageously defy the odds by simply remaining on the land to which they were born, reminding us that home is where we find comfort in our skin.

What work have you been doing on the show since your production at Barrington Stage Co. (BSC) a couple of years ago?
We learned so much from the excellent and generous audiences and team at BSC.  Based on the reception and feedback, we have been (and continue to) make adjustments to scenes and music throughout the piece.  Many of the changes are subtle and, observed individually, might only be obvious to those very familiar with the previous incarnations of the script, but we feel that the aggregate will significantly strengthen and clarify the story.  This includes replacing at least one of the existing musical numbers in the show with a new song, as well as new orchestrations throughout.  Also, we are not ignoring the fact that since we originally created and presented the piece, there has been an incredibly encouraging growth in awareness around the subject matter.  So, while the narrative will not change (as it is adapted from the documentary and the events still occur in 1998), we know we are speaking to a more informed audience, which we are taking into consideration as we continue to work through the script.We are all very excited that Southern Comfort will be seen Off Broadway this winter at The Public Theater.  How will this production differ from your previous presentations? 
One of the significant changes with regard to the current production will be in the casting.  With this production, we have been able to make a wider outreach in order to include transgender actors and we are so excited and grateful for that opportunity!  Beyond casting, we are working with our brilliant director, Tom Caruso, and the amazing design team he has assembled in order to deepen and expand the visual and technical aspects of the production.  We’ve been fortunate to work with a team that is always so respectful and thoughtful in their approach and, as a result, the presentations have always seemed to grow organically out of, and into, the presentation space.  The fact that this space will now be the iconic and uniquely intimate Anspacher Theater is all the more thrilling and we can’t wait to see the many beautiful ways that Tom and the designers make it a home for Southern Comfort!Are there any parts of the show you are excited to explore in this new production? 
We are so excited about each of the above-referenced points; the casting, the rewrites, the orchestrations and the design.  In addition to each of those things, we simply look forward to expanding our collaboration to include the incredible team at The Public.  The deep wealth of knowledge and support (not to mention the incredible history!) within those walls is irresistibly inspiring.  We truly look forward to continuing to share our thoughts and ideas with this new community of collaborators as we know the result is going to bring even more potency and life to the piece.  So, in short, we are just really excited to explore absolutely everything in the context of this overwhelmingly inspiring environment and community!

What moments in the show are you excited about sharing with a New York City audience? 
We’re excited to share every moment of the show with today’s NYC audience as the whole atmosphere around the subject has changed significantly since our last production.  In previous productions, we occasionally witnessed reactions to the subject matter that were not always positive and did not allow those audience members to connect fully to the story.  We’re grateful for the current opportunity to see many more moments speak to a wider audience and resonate like they never have before.

Why should everyone head to The Public this winter to see Southern Comfort
Our musical about Robert Eads and his chosen family is universal.  Although the subject matter may seem specific to its community, it ultimately is about family and home.  The Public has embraced our show in the most beautiful and relevant way possible and we’re confident that audiences will find themselves and their own family in the story.

For more information about Southern Comfort, visit The Public Theater’s website.

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