— 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 Café 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.