Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski trial inspires a musical, with the audience as jury

Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski trial inspires a musical, with the audience as jury

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LONDON — Snow gently dusts Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink ski suit, her tousled hair bounces in the sun, her ski poles pump the fresh powder of Deer Valley, Utah, and all is perfect, she announces to a nearby squirrel. Until a collision leads to a court case that is now being retold with pop-rock tunes — and a healthy dose of creative interpretation — on the London stage.

Since making headlines when announced last month, Awkward Productions’ “Gwyneth Goes Skiing” has been fully booked across its 10-day run at the 200-seat Pleasance Theatre, which ends Saturday. The staging allows the audience to be the jury, voting to incriminate or exonerate Paltrow once and for all in the court of public opinion.

A ski collision with a Utah optometrist in 2016 put the actor and Goop founder in the spotlight in March, in a trial that felt like “the kind of thing that two neighbors would argue about over the garden fence,” says Joseph Martin, who plays Paltrow’s accuser, Terry Sanderson. “And yet here we are, a Hollywood superstar in a small town court in Utah, arguing with an old man about something that happened seven years ago. … It was never not going to go viral.” The jury declared Sanderson liable, rather than Paltrow, and granted the actress $1 — adding to the trial’s legendary status.

At the time, Martin and his partner in work and life, Linus Karp, agreed it would make perfect fodder for a stage show. They recruited Leland, a songwriter for the likes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Troye Sivan, Charli XCX and Cher. “This just feels like something that needed to be captured in the pop zeitgeist,” Leland says. Tunes have names like “See You in Court” and “Winter in Deer Valley,” the latter sung by a roaming deer, voiced by Leland — “a role that many people were going after, and I beat them out,” he quips.

End of carousel

“Because this is about, at its height, a collision that happened over a matter of seconds, it gives us artistic license to create the whole world around it,” Martin says of the “overwhelming and mad and ridiculous and joyous” production he and Karp have written.

Their telling begins at their pair’s respective homes, where we see their breakfast habits and work calls — which for the Goop founder includes running through new product suggestions (contributed by audience members before arrival), and jettisoning subpar staff. Things then graduate to the slopes — including an imagined pre-collision exchange of life advice between Paltrow and a disgruntled Sanderson at a ski chalet — followed by the courtroom. Audience participation is a constant — some get cards that allow them to play roles such as a gift shop worker or Brad Falchuk (Paltrow’s “current boyfriend and future husband,” as he is referred to repeatedly in the show).

Karp, whose blond hair still sweeps across his forehead following a turn as Princess Diana in the U.K. stage show “Diana: the Untold and Untrue Story,” is relishing his new role as the ingenue-cum-health impresario of our age. Every twist in the nine-day trial — Paltrow’s legal team asking whether they could “bring in treats” for the bailiffs, the star’s complaint over losing “half a day of skiing” on a “very expensive vacation,” her bending to Sanderson’s ear and uttering the immortal words “I wish you well” — was “just iconic,” according to Karp. These “stupid” sound bites being discussed by suits with furrowed brows only upped their appeal, he adds. “It’s the combination of the seriousness and the silly that just makes it so golden.”

Karp has sought to capture both, partly via knowing asides as Paltrow to the audience. At one point the character describes Goop as “combining pseudo science and New Age in a wholesome and presentable way, perfect for rich White women — and some gays” and at another reveals, as she once did in a Variety interview, that she uses her Academy Award as a doorstop. (Paltrow later said she was “joking.”)

In the process, he has found more in common between her and Diana than he anticipated: “They’re both blond and beautiful and glamorous, and I think they both have that otherworldliness to them,” while they’ve also encountered unexpected opposition. “Gwyneth Paltrow gets a lot of criticism for things she does, and I don’t think it’s called for, a lot of the time. I do have a lot of respect for her,” Karp says, adding: “Some of the things they’ve done may have been ridiculous, but … they’ve broken a lot of boundaries” around female sexuality. “Even though that’s also something that people are quite quick to ridicule.”

The audience seems to share his empathy — as of Tuesday, they’d voted for Paltrow every night. (The show has alternate conclusions, depending on the verdict.)

At the same time, Sanderson v. Paltrow has featured in a Discovery documentary released this week, and “I Wish You Well,” yet another musical based on Paltrow’s court case (featuring West End stalwart Zizi Strallen) went up for one night only in London two days before “Gwyneth Goes Skiing’s” debut. Given apparent appetite for campy celeb stage offerings generally (“Tammy Faye,” with music by Elton John, ran at London’s Almeida Theatre last year, while “Jerry Springer: the Opera” toured for 18 years, among many others), Karp and Martin are optimistic their show will have a future life. Another two week-run will begin at the Pleasance at the end of January, and Martin says there’s interest from other venues.

They’ve heard no murmurings from Paltrow’s team, though they’d happily find her a ticket. “If she wants to come,” Martin says, “we will welcome her with open arms and steamed vaginas” — referencing the immortal advice the actor shared on Goop in 2015. Neither has the pair been in contact with Sanderson — a man who has “had probably more than enough press attention for his own desire,” Martin mulls, adding: “As Gwyneth would say, we wish him well.”

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