Live and On Record: Night at the Opera

Live and On Record: Boston Rock Opera: Night at the Opera
By Matt Ashare

The Boston Phoenix (6/2/98 )

It’s not every day that you can walk into a local club and find Gary Cherone covering a Who tune. These days he’s usually covering Van Halen tunes with Van Halen in somewhat larger venues than the downstairs room at the Middle East. But last Saturday night he was back in town for a short sweet reunion with his pals in Boston Rock Opera, an organization dedicated to the celebration of the much (and often rightly) maligned hybrid genre known as “rock opera,” and the group that gave Cherone the chance to play Jesus Christ in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar just a few years ago.

Cherone’s performance of the Who’s “The Real Me,” which reunited him with former Extreme bassist Pat Badger, was part of the three-act “Night at the Opera: A Concert Celebrating the Narrative Long-Form Song,” which featured nearly two-dozen mini-productions of songs from actual rock operas (“It’s a Boy,” from the Who’s Tommy), songs from concept albums (“Getting Better All The Time,” from the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), and songs theatrical enough to be related to the rock opera/concept album (from Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies” to the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” to the Jam’s “Thick As Thieves” to Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”). The event was something of a departure for BRO, whose past endeavors have been full-scale productions of complete rock operas, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Ray Davies’s Preservation Act II (which it’ll reprise in October), and Crackpot Notion by local composer Tim Robert.

Act one opened on a strong note with former Sugar drummer Malcolm Travis pounding the skins behind the show’s guitar-playing musical director, Mick Maldonado (a/k/a Mick Mondo), on the “Overture” from Tommy, which was replete with French horn. Travis stuck around to power through a couple of Alice Cooper tunes that came off a little too much like goth-rock dinner theater, but the evening’s first segment ended with one of the production’s highlights — Count Zero’s Peter Moore doing a dead-on Bowie impersonation opposite Crown Electric Company’s Linda Viens on a couple of tunes from Bowie’s 1984-inspired Diamond Dogs. Other standouts included a choral rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Wheeler and Dealer Pat McGrath’s interpretation of Jimmy Dean’s “Big John.” And with only a few exceptions (the band KrebStar butchering the vocals on the Who’s “There’s a Doctor I’ve Found/Go to the Mirror”), everything was more than solid and amusing enough to prove once again that bringing rock opera down to the level of a club show is a really good idea.

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