In Little Miss Sunshine — that dysfunctional-family/road-trip singalong coming off the Second Stage runway Nov. 14 — the profane old patriarch on board has been hitting some déjà vu bumps on the highway that jolt him back to his own happy childhood.
"What we did on family vacations," David Rasche recalled, "was ride in the car and sing songs in four parts. I sang tenor, my dad sang bass, my sister sang soprano, and my mom sang alto. We took long car vacations and sang in four parts all the time."
The songs back then were the everyday evergreens. The ones in the new musical are William Finn originals, based on a beloved indie Oscar contender for Best Picture of 2006. Michael Arndt, who quit his job as Matthew Broderick's assistant to write it, won the original screenplay Oscar, and Alan Arkin was likewise cited for Rasche's role of the crusty granddad, who teaches young Olive (Abigail Breslin) moves they hope will get her named Little Miss Sunshine in a California pre-teen beauty contest.
The rickety minibus that carries the Albuquerque clan to the contest 800 miles away in this musical Little Miss Sunshine could accommodate some six-part harmony, if angst-ridden teen Logan Rowland hadn't assumed a vow of silence. Other happy campers: An out-of-work motivational speaker (Will Swenson), his overburdened wife (Stephanie J. Block) and a suicidal gay uncle (Rory O'Malley). Hey, it's called family!
"My character has reached the point where he's ceased to care what people think of him, which is kind of a place we all get to," explained Rasche. "His speech is pretty much unedited. He just doesn't have an internal editor that says, 'Perhaps this would be inappropriate to say,' so he says what's on his mind all the time. He loves his family, but he says what he wants, and he is free from worrying what people think."
Except for Granddaughter Olive. He's along for the ride as her coach, having created for her young body the bawdy movements that he studied in strip-joints.
Rasche is allotted two solos in the show: "You Are the Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Olive" (a verbatim line from the screenplay) and a cranky rant called "I'm the Only Adult Here Giving Good Advice." ("If you understand that I say anything I want to, my advice is pretty unfiltered.") Plus, he joins in several other numbers.
"Hannah Rose Nordberg, who's playing Olive, is delightful — experienced beyond her years," Rasche beamed. "She picks up the music like that. And, for me, it's wonderful to be back singing with people again, because it was my whole life until I was about 23 or 24. That's all I did. I went to choir practice every day. I sang in church. Singing was just a part of my family, a part of everything.
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