By Chris Slattery
This article first appeared on CultureSpotMC.com.
Growing up, Andrew Lloyd Baughman was a musical theater kind of a guy. But somewhere between his stage stints at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown and Frederick’s Landless Theatre Company, where he’s producing artistic director, things got heavy—as in heavy metal.
“I have a pretty lengthy theater background,” admitted Baughman. “Heavy metal is a little more recent for me—that’s always been Melissa’s area.”
The Melissa in question is Baughman’s wife and apparent muse. Not only does she get credit for introducing her husband and theatrical partner to heavy metal music, but she will be directing the latest Landless production, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” which debuts Aug. 26 on the Arts Barn stage and runs through Sept. 25.
This is not the pair’s first foray into musical-metal mashups. Their progressive-metal version of “Sweeney Todd”—undertaken with the blessing of Stephen Sondheim—was the success upon which the Baughmans and Landless hope to build.
“Once we had the project with Stephen Sondheim, it opened up some doors,” Baughman admitted. “We had done a progressive metal project a year before, ‘Frankenstein,’ and it worked really well.” Well enough to prompt Baughman, who says he “grew up idolizing Stephen Sondheim,” to reach out to the composer’s agent and ask permission to amp up the demon barber of Fleet Street.
“I had a feeling he’d be into it,” said Baughman. “He’s very interested in getting young people to the theater, and that’s our mission, too. … I don’t know if Stephen Sondheim is a heavy metal fan, but he’s a good sport!”
Melissa Baughman, on the other hand, is definitely a heavy metal fan. “I’ve been listening to metal since I was 11,” she said. “Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, (Ronnie James) Dio—I always listened to metal; it was theatrical and dramatic!”
Baughman said she listened to all types of music growing up, everything from Elvis to Depeche Mode. At age 7, she had her first experience on the stage, and once she saw “Into the Woods” on Broadway (yes, there’s Sondheim again), she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
And just as her theater career led her to Frederick and a meeting with Andrew Lloyd Baumann, Melissa Baughman led her husband to heavy metal music. “I took him to an Iron Maiden concert and it changed his life,” she said. “It was a gateway.”
Which is something she hopes “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” will be for audiences at the Arts Barn. “Our audiences aren’t necessarily metal fans at all,” she said. “They’ve actually been diverse in age; that, to me, is the best part.”
Baughman doesn’t want “Drood” to be perceived as “theater for metalheads.” There’s so much more to the score than just the instruments it’s played on. “This is legitimate, complex and moving music,” she said, referring to the musical written by Rupert Holmes based on an unfinished manuscript by Charles Dickens. “’Edwin Drood is almost out of left field, not as obvious a fit as ‘Sweeney Todd,’ but a great choice. We want to do shows that are completely unexpected.”
She sees this desire to shake things up as a perfect dovetail with the current post-“Hamilton” mood in the musical theater genre. “Audiences want innovative theater,” she insisted. “They want someone to turn theater upside-down. (‘Hamilton’) has been a game-changer for everyone.”
But especially for Landless, with its penchant for satire and ersatz pairings. Baughman said she and musical director Charles W. Johnson “haven’t taken liberties” with the “Drood” script, set in the world of the English music hall and famous for its let-the-audience-decide cliffhanger ending.
“The liberties we are taking have to do with how the music sounds,” she explained. “It’s exciting for the cast. We give them something different and they’re, like, ‘Oh! Uncharted territory!’ It’s a mixed bag—untested!—and we’re just hoping people will come and appreciate it, whether they’re here for the musical theater, or the metal, or both.”