Island Fever

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale

According to the Internet site TV Tome, more people between the ages of 6 and 30 have heard of Gilligan, that eternal television castaway, than Theodore Roosevelt, John Glenn, or Mary Magdalene. More people have seen an episode of Gilligan's Island than watched the first astronaut landing on the moon. And 67 percent of all people polled by the same site would rather be stuck forever on an island with Gilligan's seven castaways than spend one more Thanksgiving with their real-life family.

Sure, you've Googled your own name, but have you Googled Gilligan? His fictional name scores 1,090,000 hits. Lloyd Schwartz, son of Gilligan creator Sherwood Schwartz, turns up about a third as many hits, some of them belonging to an opera historian. But Lloyd, who worked on the original '60s Gilligan series and its subsequent sequels, likely will score a few more Google points with his musical adaptation of Gilligan's Island, which made its Arizona première at Scottsdale's Desert Stages Theatre last month in an open-ended run, and has been playing to capacity crowds ever since.

New Times: I was surprised that the Gilligan musical isn't just a campy rehash of low points from the show. It's actually a stand-alone musical featuring the characters from the TV program.

Lloyd Schwartz (center) gets lei'd by the Gilligan cast.
Lloyd Schwartz (center) gets lei'd by the Gilligan cast.

Lloyd Schwartz: Well, it never dawned on us to do it that way. I'm a student of musical theater, and I knew I had to elevate the stakes. I also knew we needed Gilligan to take on world situations in a big way.

NT: Well, somebody in America needs to.

Schwartz: Right. We wanted to bring an epic quality to Gilligan the musical, where he's faced with a world situation and he's going to save the world. When we first wrote it, there was a cold war going on. But we decided to go global, so we wrote the story where the whole Earth is threatened, which is much more theatrical.

NT: You were in the theater the night I saw the show, and you told the audience that you limit the number of companies you allow to produce this show. You know, you'd make a lot of money if you wouldn't do that.

Schwartz: It's true that we lose more than we make on this show, but I limit it because I don't want high schools to do it yet. I like that it's not being done by just another community theater starring the produce lady from the neighborhood grocer who's never acted on stage before. I want to keep the integrity of Gilligan by limiting the show.

NT: Tennessee Williams would be proud. But I understand that Broadway has called on Gilligan three different times.

Schwartz: Yes, but each time it's some producer saying, "We want to do our version of Gilligan." I tell them, "We already have a Gilligan musical. Do ours." But they don't want to do ours.

NT: But you might get someone huge to appear in the Broadway version. Glenn Close could play the Skipper!

Schwartz: We're doing okay in the meantime. There are 10 or 12 productions coming up, one of them in Brisbane, Australia. This is a piece that we love, and we love doing. We think of Gilligan as belonging to America.

NT: Actually, he appears to belong to the Schwartz family. Your father invented him, you musicalized him, and your sister and brother-in-law wrote the music and lyrics for this show. I'm guessing there are no poverty-level Schwartzes out there.

Schwartz: (Laughs.) No, we're doing okay. We've never done anything for money; it seems to find us.

NT: What is it about Gilligan's Island that we won't let it die?

Schwartz: Gilligan has gotten a lot more credibility as the years go on. If you look at TV today, all the shows are about a fat guy married to a beautiful girl who would have nothing to do with him in real life. Whereas all these years later, we've got people writing theses about Gilligan, and there are all these books about how important the show was. One of them compares Gilligan to the Taliban.

NT: Oh, sure. That's kind of a given.

Schwartz: The acting on the show is getting more respect, too. I've had the opportunity to act opposite Bob Denver, and he's a genius. And Jim Backus was brilliant in Rebel Without a Cause.

NT: You weren't bad yourself in the TV movie Rescue From Gilligan's Island.

Schwartz: Yeah, yeah. Well, once in a while I do a little acting. But the truth is, we did that movie ourselves, and I was trying to cut costs. I thought, We just need someone to do this walk-on, and I don't want to have to pay another actor. I looked around the crew and most of them were too old, so I just did it myself.

NT: I heard that the Gilligan reality show was pretty snarky.

Schwartz: Yes. And I've never spoken about this before now. But when we sold the show to TBS, we meant for it to be very Gilligan. But the network partnered us up with someone who'd been very successful doing reality shows, and I didn't have the power to change the direction he took the show. I'll never let that happen again. We had a gay professor on the show, and he told me he always assumed that the original Professor was gay. And I had to tell him, "Well, he wasn't."

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help