Amazing, uneven night at the rock opera

An amazing, uneven night at the rock opera

By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 06/30/98
Produced by Eleanor Ramsay
music direction by Mick Maldonado, Dave Bellenoit as “The Presenter.”
At The Middle East Downstairs, Saturday night.

CAMBRIDGE – As you entered the Middle East Downstairs Saturday night, you might have received a list of upcoming festivities. Not a usual practice at a rock club. The program gave the order of the songs and the performing cast members. You might have noted that ex-Extreme and current Van Halen singer (babe magnet! ex-local guy! big star!) Gary Cherone was on tap to sing two songs from the Who’s ”Quadrophenia.”

Also, upon entry you might have spied Jim Mosher playing a French horn, as the strains of the Who’s ”Tommy” hung in the air. Clearly, this was not just another night in clubland. It was, in fact, the beginning of ”A Night at the Opera,” a 3 1/2-hour, one-time-only production from the Boston Rock Opera company, a presentation of rock-opera excerpts and narrative-song snippets done in front of a nearly full house. Dave Bellenoit was your slightly smarmy, semi-sincere MC.

It wasn’t stitched together as neatly as the BRO’s full-blown, full-force productions – ”Jesus Christ Superstar,” ”The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” etc. It comprised 20 or so songs, employing about 40 players. It was a three-act production that encompassed classics from the Who, obscurities from the Kinks and the Jam, Kate Bush’s ”Wuthering Heights, ” and (parts of) the Beatles’ ”Sgt. Pepper.”

Some knee-jerk responses: Amazing. Heart-wrenching. Kitschy. Campy. Tepid. Wild. There was lust, love, wordplay, and gunplay. On-key and off-key vocals. The show was in dire need of editing – most of Act 2 – but there were moments to die for: Ticia Low’s vocal/dramatic showcase of ”Wuthering Heights,” Lynette Estes’s tour-de-force multi-octave leaps during Queen’s ”Bohemian Rhapshody,” Cherone’s ”Quadrophenia” blow-out. He entered bouncing off (ex-Extreme) bassist Pat Badger’s sly ”Billy Shears” intro, as the ”Sgt. Pepper” segment shut down.

First-set highlights included the Peter Moore/Linda Viens-led (choir-lifted) Bowie bits from ”Diamond Dogs” and the slashing Alice Cooper songs ”Billion Dollar Babies” (replete with baby-doll head and fake-dollar-bill tosses by Karen Martakos and Gene Dante). BRO cofounder Mick Maldonado presented the Kinks’ ”Ordinary People” and embraced the smarmy, Brit-rock star role as no one but the Upper Crust’s Lord Bendover can. ”Wuthering Heights” was magnificent, Low’s dead Cathy a ghost of quality to John Ridlon’s regal Heathcliff.

Act 2 was a disappointment: an anti-gun thud (”Brand New Gun”) from BRO composer Tim Robert; a turgid, badly sung ”Tommy” snippet from KrebStar and others; an impossible leap from Maldonado and company with Uriah Heep’s ”The Magician’s Birthday.” Talk about an epic that’s long been (and deservedly) buried.

The third act was the kicker and the keeper. ”Bohemian Rhapsody” was worthy of worship – elegiac harmonies and crunchy rock mixing and matching, Estes a convoluted goddess. The Wheeler & Dealers’ Pat McGrath led us through a deadpan, tragic country ballad, ”Big John.” Badger and his mates kicked up ”Getting Better,” staying on for the ”Quadrophenia” embrace of ”The Punk Meets the Godfather” and ”The Real Me.” Maldonado’s Kinks twosome, ”Alcohol” and ”Money Talks, ” sent us home.

This story ran on page E03 of the Boston Globe on 06/30/98. © Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.