The Rock Opera 6-pack – Rough Cut
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
There’s no doubt that when you see a BROS show, you’ll be entertained. Russell Crowe, scantily clad in his leather hotpant man-shorts screaming at the top of his lungs, sword raised: ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED! comes to mind. Vividly.
It’s simply the BRO style: a semi-pompous, who-the-fuck-cares-what-we-just-did theatrical mindset. I’ve seen several shows by this army, I tackled a review on the design and aesthetic elements for their TRONish Electric Pharaoh back in October. I feel like I know what to expect when it comes to seeing the work they create. We’ve a history together of sorts. What I really wish, though, is that they would learn from the shortcomings of their prior productions and grow a bit as a team. I don’t see that happening and I want to, because I’m really rooting for this company’s success.
The Rock Opera 6-pack (YEAH BEER!) is a dual weekend of productions at The Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, running this weekend and next (May 21th – 31st). So, that’s three shows this weekend in rep, and three different shows in rep next weekend. Each evening, you’ll see all three (about 25-45 mins each) over just under a two hour period. It’s confusing, but it worked. This review will be of the first weekend (Weekend A, they call it) and will cover these pieces: Determination of Azimuth (directed by Lola Pierson, written by co-creators Eric Church & Heather Graham, Composed by Andrew Bernstein), Revival (directed by Craig Coletta, written by Mark Miller & Eli Breitburg-Smith, Composed by Samuel Burt) and Sidelines (by Director, Composer, Writer: Jack Sossman). The BROS say that they are going out of their comfort zone to produce new styles of work with this format. We’ll see.
Sidelines: Glamrock Gender Queer Tries SPORTS, or, Puppets And An Actual Musical Theatre Show!
I’ll start with my favorite of the evening, which was Sidelines. This show was a sort of pom-pom tossing, drunk frat-boy-wannabe thing about two opposing sports teams, with all kinds of 80s glam-rock gender-queer puppet love thrown in for good measure. It was a little too long (they bill it as 20 minutes, it definitely was not), used really crazy-stupid thematic conventions, but was so. much. fun! This show, was, to be honest, the only musical / rock-opera of the three performance evening. The other two productions did not feature as much music nor singing as this rollicking, fun, roller-coaster of a sporting event. Team A tries to kick Team B’s ass, but the coach dies, somebody gets sold off the team, and the water-boy (girl?) wants in on the action. There’s the aforementioned puppets, star-crossed love (times two!), and a really crazy-funny segment of video commentary. I would vote this production the star of the evening, if only because really, who doesn’t want to see Jon Dallas in a skin-tight leopard-print outfit topped off with a blonde wig? Am I right? Oracle? Styx? [Can’t speak for Styx – oh, wait, yes I can –YUS.-TBO]
Revival: Hand to Jesus, or, How a Demon Runs the Southern American Church
Onto Revival. Imagine if Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith crossed paths with The Exorcist. A glam-scam high-theatre style “ministry of healing” puts on staged healing sessions for the public’s benefit. Except, well, it’s obvious they’re praying every last cent out of your pocket and wearing purple satin while they do it (#YAS!). It’s all there: audience participatory hymnals, a larger than life head priest (Michael Ziccardi) who goes in and out of accent (not super sure what accent, but it’s an accent nonetheless), hoots and hollers from planted audience members, and real, true-to-life heal’ins ladies and gentlemen. Heal’ins. Midway through the evening’s proceedings we meet a poor mother with a child possessed by a demon there to wreak havoc and damn the faux-church out of its clout. The possessed child (June Keating) does an excellent job in the movement-theatre department, but could have used work on her lip syncing. The Choir (Matt Beale, Allison Hicks, Rachel Reckling & Natalie Scimonelli) was a hoot, particularly nailing their timely punchlines. The great part about this show was the sheer lunacy of the whole shebang. Overall, though, it needed a little Jesus. The comic timing could have used a lot of work, the pacing seemed so rushed it was practically impossible to understand, and I swear there were about 20 flubbed lines. The songs though – that was the good funny shit. Some of those lyrics had me LOLing so hard it hurt, so truly nice work there.
Determination of Azimuth: It takes a lot of imagination to leave the planet or WTF?
Finally we had Determination of Azimuth. Unfortunately, for me, the performance and execution of the show wasn’t there, which brought the writing, concept and design way down. There’s really strong content here, amazing potential in the direction. It was just not supported by the acting. The show tried to be an abstracted exploration of the conflict between NASA’s white-male hierarchy in engineering/upper-management contrasted with the African American women mathematicians that NASA employed to, well, do all the incredibly impossible maths. Like I said, the content was there, it was just executed poorly. I had a sneaking suspicion that Deletta Gillespie was reading her lines off of her prop books/paperwork. Could be wrong, but even if it just looked that way, there’s a problem. The pacing was a mess, the flubbed lines were almost in the triple digits, and the heavily prog-rock abstract music made this piece more avante-garde performance art than rock opera. Like I said, there’s real potential but I’d view this as a workshop performance of a work – not remotely ready for the stage.
A note on sound levels: In all three productions the microphone levels and musician levels were so outta wack that I really had no idea what the fuck I was listening to. At times there were even feedback peaks in the soundsystem, which was hella frustrating especially for a rock opera!
The Bottom Line: Well, the BROS have done it again…they’ve enlisted the help of 130 volunteers to work with so many concepts, designs, people, ideas, and cables in the sky that it’s impossible to nail down exactly what should be going on. I’d have to admit that I was kind of disappointed this time. Let me be clear: I’m not seeking perfection, I’m not seeking Broadway, God knows. What I do want is a company with this much potential to deliver on it. I understand that the BROS pushed beyond their comfort zone in this new 6-pack format, but Azimuth didn’t look rehearsed, and Revival seemed like a crash course in speed reading. Sidelines saved the evening for me, and thank god for Sidelines. But BROS, maybe you don’t need to keep screaming ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED in my face. Maybe just, well. Entertain me.
Email Achilles Feels at firstname.lastname@example.org
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