Boston Rock Opera: Preservation Acts

Music Reviews The Boston Phoenix : October 8 – 15, 1998

Boston Rock Opera: Preservation Acts
— Jonathan Perry

Longing for a mythologized past and contempt for a morally bankrupt present have always been dual preoccupations at the heart of songwriter Ray Davies’s work with the Kinks. Nearly a decade before he wrote his two-part dystopian nightmare of political corruption and greed dubbed Preservation Acts 1 and 2, Davies chronicled class hypocrisy and the unsavory secret impulses of the teetotaling bloke next door in “A Well Respected Man.” Then, six months later, he released the playful, life-of-leisure ditty “Sunny Afternoon.”

For its 1998-’99 season opener, Boston Rock Opera is presenting, for the first time, both acts of the Preservation saga in a version that throws Davies’s lifetime obsessions under the stage lights in lavish fashion. This production, which kicked off last weekend, will run the next pair of Friday and Saturday nights (October 9 and 10, 16 and 17) at the Massachusetts College of Art’s Tower Auditorium. Davies himself was so pleased with BRO’s 1993 production of Act 2 that he consulted with the group’s co-founders, Mick Maldonado (who plays the corrupt real-estate baron Mr. Flash and is the new production’s music director) and Eleanor Ramsay (producer, director, set design), on the new script and dropped by the rehearsals.

If a special press performance of the rock musical a week ago Thursday provided any indication of what’s in store, Davies has to be grinning. Not only has BRO’s production done satisfying, faithful justice to his darkly brilliant vision, in some ways it outshines the original albums. As grandly ambitious as they were, save for a smattering of classic and should-be classic songs, Acts 1 and 2 were, on album at lleast, ultimately uneven projects — inferior to works like 1969’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, which served as the blueprint for a subsequent Davies rock opera. In BRO’s hands, the songs, dialogue, and characters leap from dusty obscurity to vivid, three-dimensional life, at once funny and sad and tragic, with all Davies’s original intentions intact.

A dynamic cast of more than two dozen actors, dancers, musicians, and behind-the-scenes personnel expertly deliver the tale of an epic battle between Good and Evil and how it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference. Maldonado is perfect as the thuggish Mr. Flash, who takes control of the Village and turns it into his own “vulgar playground.” In truth it’s kind of hard not to root for the unscrupulous degenerate who eventually gets his comeuppance, since (1) you can see that the supposedly righteous leader-in-waiting, Mr. Black (played with fascistic Moral Majority glee by Brian Gottesman), is a very bad dude who’s probably a lot more dangerous than the more obviously crooked Flash, and (2) Flash and his henchman throw a better party thanks to the fantastic eight-piece band led by Matt Thorsen. Plus, Flash has Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley (Belle) on his arm — that is, until he gets caught sharing some bubbly with one of the floozies.

The unwitting center of this apocalyptic storm-a-brewing is the Tramp — who’s essentially Ray Davies. The Tramp vacillates between just wanting to be left alone to sit “in the midday sun” and lamenting a world of selfishness where “nobody gives anymore.” Expertly played by Count Zero’s Peter Moore, he doesn’t want to have to choose between Flash and Black, since either way he and everybody else in the Village get screwed (i.e., turned into mindless zombies à la A Clockwork Orange). In other words, to cop a line from one of Davies’s rock-opera-writing contemporaries, “Meet the new Boss, same as the old Boss.”

(c) 1998 The Boston Phoenix

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