Reviving a Piece of Music History

‘Preservation’- minded:
Boston Rock Opera gets its Kinks by reviving a piece of music history

— by Dean Johnson Boston Herald: 10/01/98

Could there be anything more terrifying for a small theater group than seeing the renowned author of the work you’re performing show up at an early dress rehearsal?

It happened to the Boston Rock Opera company Sunday. The 5-year-old nonprofit group was prepping for Friday’s debut of the Kinks’ rock opera “Preservation,” when Kinks front man Ray Davies popped into the Tower Auditorium at the Massachusetts College of Art to check out the production.

The 23 cast members — including Letters to Cleo lead singer Kay Hanley — “were freaked out,” according to BRO producer and director Eleanor Ramsay. “Some of the people in the cast are big Kinks fans,” Ramsay said, “so they were really nervous. Having the author there, no matter who it is, is pretty nerve-racking.”

They needn’t have worried. The next morning Davis had nothing but kind words for the cast.

“It’s a very energetically and dynamically presented production,” he said. “They did a grand job.” In this case, there was good reason for a little extra pressure — and Davies’ interest.

“Preservation” has never been performed in its entirety since the Kinks toured with it in 1974. Hollywood, European companies, supposedly even Ray’s brother Dave, the Kinks’ lead guitarist, have all asked to do it over the years, but Davies shot them all down. Until now. The BRC staged a portion of “Preservation” five years ago and began a dialogue with Davies. “I’ve known about this company’s work for several years,” Davies said, “and they’ve been very persistent in trying to get ‘Preservation’ put on properly, and they believe in the piece.”

“I encouraged them to do it,” he said, “because I feel they have a genuine affinity for the piece and its music, and though I’m not that involved with it, I’ve given them my blessing to do the production as they see fit.”

The work, which Davies called “a documentary myth,” is replete with corrupt politicians on one side, the extreme religious right on the other, and the little people caught in the cross fire. “What I found interesting is that it parallels so many contemporary situations,” Davies said. “My politicians are kind of extreme good or bad, and it resonates in so many ways with things happening today that I hope,” he quipped, “this is a step towards resurrecting this every time an election comes around. It should be treated as a kind of fairy tale and a hard-edge documentary.”

Meanwhile, hard-core Kinks fans are treating this production as one of the highlights of the end of the century. According to Ramsay, the BRO has been contacted by folks from Germany, England, Venezuela and the West Coast, all determined to take in the production. Like traditional opera, there is no dialogue. Ramsay admitted that she dropped five songs from the original work as well as passages and verses in other songs. But Davies didn’t complain and even offered more editing that the group just couldn’t fit in with its imposing deadline.

“Eleanor’s choice was to let the music speak without too much explanation,” he said. “I found that if you’re attentive and listen, like any opera if you don’t speak its language, you still get the gist of what it’s about. I was amazed at how much text is really in the music. “It’s actually rekindled interest in the work,” he said. “You tend to leave things behind, but this project has reminded me that I was writing something more than a rock album when I made it.”

The two albums that make up the complete opera, “Preservation Act I” and “Preservation Act II,” have recently been released with bonus tracks on the Velvel label. Though Davies is finishing off a choral piece because of a premiere in England next month and a full-fledged stage production, “Come Dancing,” being readied for the London stage next year, he isn’t ready to say the Kinks are finished. “I’d love the band to play again,” he said. “It’s such a great band. But I only want to do shows and records because we have good new music. I don’t want to appease people who want to see old hits. I think the band has to be alive and play new music to work, and we’ll decide all that next year.”

The BRO’s production of “Preservation” could also stretch into next year. Though the Boston run is slated to end Oct. 17, Ramsay said there are discussions of bringing it first to New York and then to London. It could even be part of the prestigious Edinburgh fest next summer.

If Kinks fans are beside themselves because “Preservation” is coming to life again, Ramsay may have more good news for them in the future. She’s already considering taking on the Kinks’ “Soap Opera” for the BRO.

The Boston Rock Opera’s production of “Preservation” will be staged tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at Tower Auditorium in the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $10-$15. Call (617) 423-NEXT.

(c) 1998 The Boston Herald