Amphion – See Jane Rock
A NOTE FROM THE BAD ORACLE:
Amphion, in its original form, was produced as part of the 2011 BROS Double Feature. The script was reworked and re-edited by local writer David K. for this, their spring 2016 production. You can read about that process here, but one of the most major revamps was to change the character of Amphion’s gender from male to female. In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, some (to my ear at least) legitimate concerns have been brought up around the treatment of this character, and other problematic elements of the story. The BROS have put out a statement addressing these issues, read it and decide for yourself. What I will say is this: it seems attendance for Amphion has been noticeably lower than for other BROS shows and this, in and of itself, strikes me as ominous. If the community is willing to attend cock-fueled, boy-band spectacles but NOT as willing to support a show featuring queer women (if that is indeed the reason for lowered attendance) than shame on us, right? I haven’t seen the show, and I will do so this weekend. If I feel it’s necessary, I will post my thoughts on Amphion as an ETA to this review.
I have an odd relationship with the BROS. I truly want them to succeed. I do. But often I end up leaving one of their jizz-spectacles sort of disappointed. This reaction is due to how I personally approach theatre, yeah, but most often arises from the details of their work. The Baltimore Rock Opera Society produces large-scale music-based theatrical events, which, cool. But if I can’t hear one damned vocal, or if the actors can’t hit the notes, or if the music balance is drastically off, I won’t ignore that. It’s okay for a Boh and Pikesville fueled Sidebar show, sure, but if The BROS are going to expand their audience to include theater-going patrons in addition to party-vested punks (not that the two groups are necessarily mutually exclusive, but you get it) they need to do better. Luckily for us, they can, and they have.
On my latest adventure to the gender-bending rocktacular Amphion, I notice that the BROS have gotten more intentional in terms of guest interaction. The lack of doorperson with an attitude and an inability to find my name on the iWhatever device was welcome [Mess this up one time, and Achilles will never forgive you – TBO]. I grabbed a drink and got in what looked like a line to the show. Eventually, the doors opened, I found my seat, and gave in. After a thoughtful curtain speech noting the Orlando tragedy, we begin. From the first number, I’m transfixed and, yes, totally proud of the BROS. I was able to hear every single word (sound engineering by Carlos Guillen) from the spectacular voices (vocal coaching by Lauren Aycock Anderson and music direction by Nick Jewett). The lighting folks (Chris Allan, Carlos Guillen) are using their art to facilitate seeing the show and to create some atmosphere. I can hear it, I can see it. Let’s go BROS!
Amphion is about a lady musician to court, the titular Amphion (Sarah Gorman), who falls in love with Nasreen (Melissa LaMartina), a princess of the visiting Persian government, in Constantinople, in 500 (or so) AD. Nasreen’s love affair is found out, and Amphion is blamed for their indiscretion. Upon sentencing, the hateful Bozorgmehr (Ted Alsedek) punishes Amphion by having her hand cut off. After this, Amphion lives a life in shadow, no longer the artistic muse of the entire city. Under the cover of general ignorance, the love affair continues, and is rediscovered by a deceitful betrayal, with a ton of sub-plot thrown in along the way. The story is sad, real, and punctuated with BROSish humor, which lightens the tragedy a little.
There is no fucking way I can mention the hundreds (literally) of people involved in this production. We’d be here for over a year reading the names one by one like a high-school graduation, so I’ve got to go with the highlights. The BROS cast well at the top for this one. Gorman is stupendous, has an insane voice, and really owns the role. LaMartina also slays, and the two of them together are unstoppable. Ted Alsedek goes a little over the top for me with the diabolical Bozorgmehr and could tone down the flailing. Mark Miller, playing Bozorgmehr’s counterpart, Borzuya, is similarly larger-than-life, which isn’t bad, just could use some finesse.
This show has astounding moments thanks to co-direction from Aran Keating and Matthew Casella, who successfully wrangle an army of individuals. Amphion and Nasreen’s first kiss, for example, is not played gratuitously or for the (shudder) sake of ticket sales but is thoughtful, honest, and touching. The power ballad between Narses (Robert Harris) and Theodora (Christina Holmes), belting their betrayal as the royalty discovers the affair, is the most incredible song in the repertoire and is sung with such gusto that I had tears of joy and sorrow in my eyes. Musically, the band was stellar. Smack dead-center for all the world to see, at times part of the show, lulling you into a false sense of thematic security with well played music. (My favorite BROSnoxious moment, I must say, was the cracking open of about ten Natty Bohs during the brief pause before the opening number. #classicBROS)
THE BOTTOM LINE: I am thrilled that the BROS, a force in this city, have begun to figure out that spectacle for spectacle’s sake doesn’t matter if quality and craftsmanship is not present in the end product. Amphion is the best show in this arena, hands down, that I have seen from them. It’s thematically complete, technically thoughtful, well-balanced vocally, and elevates the entire company. Rev up for The BROS.
*An earlier version of this review misidentified the princess Nasreen (Melissa LaMartina) as the empress Theodora (Christina Holmes).
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