The Macbeths are alive and well and living in Pennsylvania.
At least, that’s the premise of the 2001 film Scotland, PA, written and directed by William Morrissette and starring James LeGros and Maura Tierney as the power-hungry couple at the center of a… fast food restaurant in the 1970s.
Long beloved, the black comedy is now headed to Off-Broadway—’70s chic and laminated menus intact—for its incarnation as a musical courtesy of composer Adam Gwon, book writer Michael Mitnick, and director Lonny Price. Beginning previews at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre Off-Broadway September 14, the show promises movie fans all the highlights—and newcomers to the material are in for a deep-fried treat.
“Michael Mitnick brought the idea to me,” Gwon says shortly before rehearsals begin. Already a fan, Mitnick was reminded of the movie by no less than Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Paula Vogel, who cited it as an example of a smart adaptation of Shakespeare while Mitnick was studying with her during graduate school.
Something sparked for Gwon when Mitnick mentioned the film, and getting the rights was simple: The indie studio that owned them only requested that the project remain set in the 1970s, something the writers had been planning on doing.
And so Gwon—best-known for Ordinary Days—went on a deep dive of the musical stylings of the era, to bring to life Mac and Pat (Ryan McCartan and Taylor Iman Jones), working at Duncan’s Cafe in Scotland, Pennsylvania, and dreaming of a better life. Of course, their methods are as unsavory as day-old fries, and blood is spilled around as freely as a bottle of Heinz.
But despite the “broad palette” of the era’s music, Gwon’s songs are identifiably him, which makes auditions a very particular process.
“I’m always looking for this sense of conversation and communication in a song,” he says. “A lot of my songs are sort of conversational. One of the things I love collaborating with a book writer on is feeling like the songs transition from speaking into singing really effortlessly.”
Gwon points to his two leads as exemplars of that, praising their previous work and warning that fans aren’t ready for what they bring to the table here.
“Getting to see them play the musical version of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is gonna be exciting for people, because there’s a lot for them to dig into and they do it really, really well,” he says. “And all in the hamburger restaurant world.”