Live Review: Preservation

Northeast Performer Magazine
-Scott Chesley: Nov, 1998 Live Review

Photos by Janet Caliri

Tower Auditorium, Mass College of Art
Boston, MA — October 1, 1998

Ray Davies’ Preservation, a rock opera originally released as two separate albums (Act’s I and II) in the early ’70s, had not been staged anywhere since the Kinks toured with it in 1974. Until now, that is. Having performed a portion of the cutting, political / social-satire work in 1993, The Boston Rock Opera began discussions with Davies about the possibility of a full production. Impressed with the troupe’s ability to effectively translate his ‘lost lifelong project’ to the stage, Davies gave the group his blessing to continue work on a script. The final product incorporates music from both original albums, and tells a timeless tale of good and evil, ultimately drawing attention to the often-subjective interpretation of both.

With Preservation the BRO appears to have taken their work to a higher, more streamlined level. Whereas their presentations of The Rocky Horror Show, Crackpot Notion, Sgt. Pepper, Jesus Christ Superstar, and more recently the cabaret-style Night At The Opera showed a fertile, yet still developing organization finding their feet, Preservation has raised the stakes with its delightful performances, fine-pacing, streamlined choreography, and deft meshing of story and music. A true opera, in the sense that all dialogue is contained in the musical numbers, it is to BRO’s great credit that the subtleties of Ray Davies’ tale are not lost in the telling.

Preservation’s story:

In the Village, an idyllic place set in Anycountry, Mr. Flash (Mick Maldonado), a ruthless, power-hungry real-estate baron has seized control of the government, bribing and coercing all who oppose his immoral, self-serving ways. Appeasing the town leaders with gifts and favors, he is able to maintain a firm grip on the commerce of the village and the lives of its inhabitants. Unable to stand up to his evil ways, the village slips into an intoxicating haze of apathy and decadence. Out of this general malaise, the opportunistic Vicar (Marty Barrett) and Activist (Lynette Estes) begin to rally the good people of the village to fight back against the evil Mr. Flash. Backing the conservative Mr. Black (Brian Gottesman), a striking figure given to pious platitudes about the ‘common good’ and tirades against the weakness of the people, the Vicar organizes a party to battle the ranks of Flash. Aided by the creepy Mad Scientist (Jim McKay), a sinister character with designs on total mind-control, Black’s opposition party gains strength and divides the Village.

Meanwhile, the only citizen not caught up in the fray, the voice of reason, The Tramp (Peter Moore), speaks out on a soapbox in the center of town, admonishing the people that they are caught in an age old battle and that neither side offers peace or truth. Flash, sensing that his precarious empire is cracking, lashes out at the Tramp, having his henchman beat him senseless while the crowd looks on in bewilderment. Retiring to his flat, Flash falls asleep and is visited by a spirit who forces him to realize that his ways are wrong and that only by renouncing his wickedness can he achieve goodness and prevent Mr. Black from seizing control of the people’s minds and free will.

Flash attempts to confess his change of heart to his girlfriend Belle (Kay Hanley), who, having tired of his cheating, sinful ways, informs him that their relationship is over. At this moment Black’s men, who force him to the Mad Scientist’s lair, where he is to be cleansed by the newly developed mind-control helmet, abduct Flash. Unable to resist, Flash is quickly relieved of his free will and ability to influence the people of the town. With Flash out of the way, Black is free to initiate his ominous plan for the future, and a mass cleansing ceremony is organized for the entire village. One by one the townsfolk are led through the ‘cleansing archway’, and finally, as The Tramp and good lady Genevieve (Kaci Carr) are forced through, the disturbing prospect of Black’s vision becomes reality; the Village has been ‘cleansed.’

The songs comprising Preservation run the gamut from the pastoral ditty Sitting In The Midday Sun, performed to carefree perfection by The Tramp (Peter Moore), to the flat out rock of Flash’s Demolition, to the countrified blues duet of Belle and Tramp’s Scrapheap City. With many strong ensemble numbers and exceptionally inspired individual performances from Mick Maldonado, Marty Barrett (The Vicar), and Peter Moore, whose teetering town drunk repeatedly stole the show, the BRO breathed a vibrant life into Davies exceptionally relevant rock commentary.

John Whiteside and producer Eleanor Ramsay’s simple, yet elegant and effective set design worked in dramatic complement with Whiteside’s subtle stage lighting. Although utilitarian and practical, the combination succeeded at depicting a number of separate locations within the Village. As always, the BRO’s band was razor sharp and ran through Ray Davies’ material with a rollicking abandon. Dan Millen’s lead guitar work was especially satisfying, inspired and raunchy in the best Dave Davies style, while band leader Matt Thorsen anchored the proceedings with rock solid acoustic rhythm guitar.

Costume designer, the inimitable Animal X, adorned the cast with appropriately tacky, bright, somber, and sullen garb, creating a tantalizing visual spectacle, colorful and flashy. Under her skilled hand, Flash waxed sleazier, Genevieve shone brighter, and Mr. Black oozed shiny, viscous oil.

With the staging of Preservation, the Boston Rock Opera has proved, if there was any doubt, that in the relatively unexplored world of rock opera Performance Theater they are peerless. Each successive production has trumped the last, and if the maxim that success begets success holds true, Boston will be made richer by their vital, delightful endeavors for a long time to come.

©1998 Northeast Performer Magazine