Tulips take center stage

Act­or Adam Heller plays a char­ac­ter known only as “Man” in ‘Tulipo­man­ia,’ a new play by award-win­ning play­wright Mi­chael Og­born, show­ing at the Ar­den Theatre through Ju­ly 1.

— Ar­den Theatre’s ‘Tulipo­man­ia: The Mu­sic­al’ tells the story of his­tory’s first eco­nom­ic bubble: the Hol­land tulip craze of 1636.


It hit him when he was in ju­ni­or high school and turned to his audi­ence to say his lines.

“We were do­ing a class play, a me­lo­drama loosely based on the Per­ils of Pau­line. I played a vil­lain, and I vividly re­call re­cit­ing jokes and the sound of the audi­ence laughter. Well, that did it. It was like get­ting hit with a sledge­ham­mer. The feel­ing was so in­tox­ic­at­ing, that I knew from then on that I wanted to be­come an act­or.”

That’s New York act­or Adam Heller, who’s ap­pear­ing in Tulipo­man­ia: The Mu­sic­al at the Ar­den Theatre through Ju­ly 1, re­call­ing his early the­at­ric­al be­gin­nings.

This play by Mi­chael Og­born, en­joy­ing its world premiere, delves in­to the Hol­land tulip craze of 1636, which, ac­cord­ing to Heller, is widely con­sidered to be the first eco­nom­ic bubble in his­tory that burst.

“Mi­chael tells a story about ob­ses­sion and the lengths to which some people will go to achieve status in the world. He finds a good porthole to this theme in the tulip trade,” Heller, 52, ex­plained. “He wrote the book, mu­sic and lyr­ics, and was in­ter­ested in how people tend to over­value the latest crazes that make mil­lion­aires out of some people but pau­pers out of many oth­ers.”

The story cen­ters around six strangers in an Am­s­ter­dam hash bar who re­call the seedy story of love, sex, money and power as told by the bar own­er. The story shifts between mod­ern day and the 1600s. The strangers seek ca­marader­ie and an­onym­ity on a rainy Am­s­ter­dam af­ter­noon.

Tulipo­man­ia marks the Ar­den’s third Og­born premiere, fol­low­ing 2001’s Baby Case (Bar­ry­more Award for Out­stand­ing Ori­gin­al Mu­sic) and 2003’s Caf&ea­cute; Put­tan­esca.

Tulipo­man­ia is a story with­in a story,” said Heller, whose char­ac­ter is known only as Man, “and as the bar own­er tells the story about this man in the 1600s, it be­comes ob­vi­ous that he had sim­il­ar traits to my char­ac­ter. We all meet as strangers in the bar and as the own­er be­gins to tell us about the tulip craze of the 1600s, we all be­come char­ac­ters in his story.”

And that, said Heller, is where most of the play’s chal­lenges oc­cur.

“Com­ing in and out of the times as the story goes back and forth, some­times even in mid-sen­tence, cre­ates quite a chal­lenge for the act­or,” he said. “And then in­teg­rat­ing the story, and in­teg­rat­ing the char­ac­ter with the char­ac­ter in the story, is one of the biggest chal­lenges in do­ing this role.”

As the bar own­er’s story pro­gresses, all the cus­tom­ers are eager to help him tell his story, Heller said.

“He en­gages them in a way that makes them long to es­cape the present,” he said. “Of course, it does re­quire a leap of faith on the part of the audi­ence for the play to suc­ceed. It’s an in­ter­est­ing story-telling tech­nique and feels very im­pro­visa­tion­al. And thanks to Terry (No­lan), the Ar­den co-founder and pro­du­cing artist­ic dir­ect­or who dir­ects this play, I think we’ve cre­ated a very in­ter­est­ing work.”

Grow­ing up and real­iz­ing act­ing was what he wanted most to do, Heller at­ten­ded and gradu­ated from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He said his big break came in 1988 when he was chosen, among many oth­ers, to ap­pear in the third na­tion­al tour of Les Miser­ables

“After nine months on the road, I moved to Broad­way with the show, and look­ing back, even after many oth­er shows I’ve done, I would say that’s the main one that helped change my life,” Heller said.

De­fin­ing him­self as both an act­or and a sing­er, he said he’s a guy who was al­ways in­ter­ested first in act­ing and came to singing later in his ca­reer.

“But I do love do­ing both straight plays and mu­sic­als,” he said. “Today, I like the mu­sic­al form and I like the songs and the story and the or­ches­tra. In fact, I love it all. I love to sing, and for me, it’s really a priv­ilege to be able to do both pro­fes­sion­ally.” ••

For times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 215-922-1122.

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