Coraline Goes from Film to Stage

Stephin MerrittOne of the more successful graphic novel to film adaptations in recent memory was most definitely Coraline, and we received word that just last week it premiered on stage in (where else?) New York City.

Coraline is running from May 8th to June 20th, 2009, at the MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street in New York. Here’s a synopsis from the MCC: A musical like no other, Coraline sprang from the minds of three of the most wildly popular cult figures of our time. Adapted from the terrifying children’s book by Neil Gaiman, this tale of menace and mayhem is set to music and lyrics by smart-rock iconoclast Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields (pictured) and boasts a book by celebrated downtown actor/playwright David Greenspan, who serves double-duty as the villainous Other Mother. Tony nominee Jayne Houdyshell stars in the title role, and bringing it all together is acclaimed director Leigh Silverman.

In an interview with Decider.com, Merritt discusses “his mania for Neil Gaiman, John Cage, the importance of scaring kids, and what a rat’s accent sounds like.” Here are a couple of excerpts:

  • Of course I identify with Coraline. She’s quite a blank character into which you can project anything you want. My personal identification with the book, however, is backward. I’m a child of weird hippies who only occasionally had glimpses of normalcy in other peoples’ kitchens. We often didn’t have a kitchen. So I look at Coraline the way I look at The Brady Bunch—as a mysterious place that’s kind of my life turned inside out.

  • The primary influence on Coraline is John Cage, and I can’t say that there’s been any show-business-style influence from anyone on this particular show. We’re using the prepared piano [ed. note: a Cage staple whose sound is altered by objects like playing cards or aluminum foil placed between the strings or on the hammers of a piano] for most of the show, and we started out with preparations from two Cage pieces. He did work for toy piano and prepared piano, and he is the premier composer of the 20th Century on both of those instruments and arguably in general. So we’ve been heavily influenced—but only by John Cage.

  • With regard to the casting of the very adult Jayne Houdyshell as the 9-year-old Coraline, Merritt says that her 9-year-old girl is not remotely convincing, of course, on one level. She doesn’t look like a 9-year-old girl and she doesn’t sound like a 9-year-old girl. But you completely forget that she isn’t a 9-year-old girl after watching for a little while. It’s so odd.
  • Odd indeed, but also utterly fascinating. Hit the above link for the full interview, and click here for the official MCC Theater site, where you can get more info and order tickets. For more on Stephin Merritt, visit his site, The House of Tomorrow.

    Debi Moore

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