Kinks Opera 'Preservation' Revived By Boston Theater

Kinks Opera ‘Preservation’ Revived By Boston Theater
New England thespian group’s update of veteran Brit band’s work takes to the stage Friday

VH1 (Oct. 2)
by Contributing Editor Colin Devenish

Kinks leader Ray Davies said he recognizes similarities between plot of “Preservation” and recent scandal in Washington, D.C.

Kinks leader Ray Davies hadn’t given permission for anyone to perform a full production of their rock opera “Preservation” since the seminal British rock outfit performed the piece during its 1974 tour.
Surely he had his reasons.
But  after seeing a rehearsal of the recently revived work Sunday, Davies said he feels he’s done the right thing by letting the Boston Rock Opera give the piece a go.
“I was very impressed with what they’re doing,” said singer/guitarist Davies, 54. “They’ve done it before in a club, but I thought it was better in a bigger space. It’s a nice theater. The music was very well-presented, well-done — I dare say up there with the Kinks’ performance. Very tight, very true to the record.”

Staged in the Tower Auditorium in Boston, a 450-seat theater on the Massachusetts College of Art campus, the Boston Rock Opera’s production of “Preservation” begins Friday (Oct. 2) and continues through a three-weekend run that ends Oct. 17.
With musical selections culled from two Kinks albums, Preservation Act 1 (1973) and its 1974 follow-up, Preservation Act 2, the current production by the New England-based theater company is set in “the Village” and traces the struggle of the villagers in choosing between Machiavellian leader and cold-hearted real-estate magnate Mr. Flash and his seemingly squeaky-clean rival, Mr. Black, a choice that proves to be little better than hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Tossing aside her guitar and mic, Kay Hanley of Boston-based poppers Letters To Cleo plunged into the role of Mr. Flash’s longtime love interest, Belle, joining a cast that includes Boston Rock Opera co-founder Mick Maldonado in the role of Mr. Flash.
“I love the role of Belle. In very cliched terms, she’s the ‘hooker with the heart of gold,’ ” said Hanley, 30. “She has a complicated relationship with Flash that leads her to do the wrong thing when she thinks she’s doing the right thing. It f—s it all up and in this case it moves the story along.”

Based on his viewing of the rehearsal, Davies noticed several basic differences between the Boston Rock Opera’s version and the one his legendary pop-rock act took on the road nearly 25 years ago.

“The Kinks’ one was a lot wilder, and I think [in] this one Eleanor [Ramsay, director of the production] is focusing on certain issues: village greed, corruption in Parliament. I think [in] this one there are more people on the stage. We had six extra singers with us but we were never able to present it in a theatrical way.”

Ramsay, co-founder of the Boston Rock Opera — whose past productions include “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and a reading of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” with Gary Cherone, newly acquired frontman of the pop-metal act Van Halen, in the title role — said the set itself mirrors the crisis in the sickened village.

“It’s a stylized set, essentially like a facade painted so that it has cracks in it. The entire set looks ready to crumble,” Ramsay said. “The costuming is hand-painted, so it has almost a cartoonish or nightmarish quality to it. The entire thing could almost be a bad dream. Everything has a facade on it or a faux covering. It ties in with the characters and fronts people put on and people do behind their back.”

The similarities between the basic plot of “Preservation” and the recent political machinations in Washington, D.C., were not lost on Davies, whose description of one scene from the play could have just as easily been describing President Bill Clinton’s month-long mea culpa for his involvement with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“It is a sign of our times. Mr. Flash appeals to the nation about what a hard life he’s had,” Davies said. “But, in the end, although he’s a manipulator and a great showman, he’s undone by the media.”

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

Few Kinks to Work out in BRO's fine 'Preservation'

There are few kinks to work out in BRO’s fine ‘Preservation’
–by Dean Johnson/Music Review | Boston Herald |10/03/98

“Preservation,” a two-act rock opera by the Boston Rock Opera Company
at Tower Auditorium, Mass. College of Art,
Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 17.

Human nature never changes, and the proof is in the Boston Rock Opera company’s production of Kinks frontman Ray Davies’ “Preservation.”

Until this week, “Preservation” hadn’t been performed in its entirety since the Kinks last performed it in 1974. But the piece, dubbed “a morality play” by its author, is in many ways more contemporary now than when it was written.

A onetime honorable man (Mr. Flash) has become a corrupt businessman and politician who is opposed by the superpious Mr. Black, who favors mind control to legislate his own particular brand of morality. As the two forces clash, the little people are caught in the middle.

The setting is the imaginary Village. It might as well be Washington, D.C. Everyman is portrayed by the Tramp, the only one who makes any real sense. He watches all the madness without getting involved and ultimately is the only one to escape with wits and integrity intact. Because the production hasn’t been performed in nearly a quarter of a century, the only real precedent for the BRO are the two “Preservation” albums recorded by the Kinks.

The group is true to the spirit of Davies’ original music — so true that the Tramp (Peter Moore) and Flash (Mick Maldonado) sound uncannily like Davies in places.

Moore plays the Tramp with a carefree, loose-limbed grace a little reminiscent of the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” while Maldonado’s Flash is a wonderfully unctuous soul, in part, perhaps, because Davies has said Flash has more of him than any other character in the production.

Other standouts are Brian Gottesman as an insidious Mr. Black and Letters to Cleo singer Kay Hanley, who vamped it up as Flash’s girlfriend Belle.

Though Thursday’s opening performance had its share of technical glitches (dead mikes, missed lighting cues, unbalanced singers-vs.-band sound levels), it was an fun night, especially for Kinks fans.

Davies’ original tunes range from feisty pop and raging rock to English dance hall ditties, with a little country and western thrown in. The music, particularly ensemble numbers such as “Here Comes Flash,” “He’s Evil” and “Money Talks,” holds up well. And “Sweet Lady Genevieve” is as wistful and sweet as anything he’s written.

Jane Bulger’s choreography and Eleanor Ramsay’s direction add enough action and visual appeal to flesh out the story. But like any opera, the music carries the real message.

Even Davies, who took in last Sunday’s dress rehearsal, was impressed. His response to seeing his onetime pet project brought to life onstage for the first time in nearly 25 years:

“It was worth the wait.”

Who are we to disagree?

(c) 1998 The Boston Herald

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

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

Preservation – A Rock Opera by Ray Davies

Preservation remains one of Boston Rock Opera’s most successful and best received shows. We are proud to have had the chance to stage this work.

October 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 1998
at the Tower Auditorium at the
Massachusetts College of Art, Boston MA

Mick Maldonado as Flash and
Kay Hanley as Belle

Featuring: Mick Maldonado as the morally bankrupt Mr. Flash and Brian Gottesman (Chucklehead) as his nemesis; the neo-conservative Mr. Black. Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo) plays Flash’s long-suffering gal-pal Belle, Peter Moore (Count Zero, BRO) is The Tramp and Kaci Carr (Janet in BRO’s Rocky Horror) is Genevieve. John Surrette (The Deniros) is Spiv, Marty Barrett (The Orange Show!) is The Vicar, performance artist Jim McKay is The Mad Scientist and veteran BRO performer Lynette Estes is The Activist. There’s a cast of 23 and a 7 piece band.

The story unfolds in The Village. The Tramp, a wandering Everyman, has returned to reclaim his lost love. During his absence, Mr. Flash, a ruthless real-estate baron and thug, has seized control of the government and rules by intimidation. Not content to suffer in fear and degradation under Flash the people seek a new saviour in Mr. Black, a conservative moralizer with a dark vision of a population “improved” by mind control. A battle of will escalates, the line between good and evil greys, and human frailty and excess spells doom for all.

Davies in the wings for ‘Preservation’ Globe 1998

Boston Globe: Living | Arts
Davies in the wings for ‘Preservation’

By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 10/02/98 | The Boston Globe Online |

Ray Davies, singer-songwriter for the Kinks, wrote the pair of conceptual albums ”Preservation Act 1” and ”Preservation Act 2” a quarter-century ago. The Middle Ages of rock ‘n’ roll, if you will. So, go ahead: Blow the dust off the old RCA records, or better still, pick up the re-releases on Velvel with bonus tracks. Some good tunes, but maybe it’s all a trifle dated …

A ”reform” politician, who is himself clandestinely corrupt, is challenging a glib leader who has long been morally bankrupt for the control of ”the Village,” once a happy little spot now gone to rot. The common people’s lot? To be doormats and pawns. The politicians’ ultimate aim? To line their own pockets and zombify the public. There are moments of hope and some brilliant melodies at work, but it’s a persuasively cynical and cyclical work, one that does not portend well for the people.

Which would make ”Preservation” about as topical as today’s paper.

Davies, on the phone from New York, references not the political travails in the United States, but what has happened in his native England. ”I was the most depressed person,” he says, about Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair’s coming to power, taking over from the conservative John Major. ”There will always be a new Tony Blair or somebody, a Mr. Right coming in and turning out the same as everybody else.”

”Preservation” has long been a favorite of Boston Rock Opera co-founders Mick Maldonado and Eleanor Ramsay. The group staged a one-night-only performance of ”Act 2,” which is where most of the ”action” happens, in 1993 at the Middle East in Cambridge. The company will be kicking up an expanded, revamped ”Preservation” (both acts) for six nights, Fridays and Saturdays, at the Tower Auditorium, Mass. College of Art, eleanor1 Huntington Ave., beginning tonight at 8:30. Maldonado has the lead as the venal Mr. Flash; Brian Gottesman is the so-called reformer Mr. Black; Letters to Cleo singer Kay Hanley plays a floozy named Belle. It’s directed by Jane Bulger and Ramsay.

”I went up to see Eleanor a few times when I was in Boston,” says Davies, who generally splits his at-home time between New York and London, ”and gave her my blessing because it’s good she’s got the energy to keep going with it. I stopped by to see a staging last weekend, and I was quite impressed with what they were doing. But it’s their production. Not to be confused with me doing a Pete Townshend.”

Ramsay says some cast members’ hearts skipped beats when they found out Davies was going to catch a rough run-through. ”He had some very constructive comments,” Ramsay says. ”Ray was filled with ideas – there were some changes, and he encouraged us to go with some ideas we had but were unsure of.”

”I think I tuck myself away,” says Davies, of his on-set presence. ”I’ve been in these situations before and it is difficult to have the person who wrote the piece there. But after a while they’re so concerned with what they’re doing it’s difficult to think about what the author thinks. They’re stuck in the middle of it and they’re on their own journey.”

Davies pooh-poohs his contributions – ”I can’t compliment the musical performance highly enough” – noting, with a chuckle, that he was primarily concerned that Maldonado wasn’t making the dastardly Mr. Flash evil enough. He was pleased that the show had been sufficiently ”de-Kinked,” and he also tweaked the ending a bit.

The Kinks toured the United States only once behind ”Preservation,” in 1974, and did a just a weekend of shows at a London theater.

A second story, one that rides alongside the political theme, says Davies, is the tale of ”Preservation”’s Tramp, the everyman/observer who is ”an alcoholic, a beggar, really. It’s also one man’s struggle to get his life together. I love the element of somebody trying to do some personal or trival things against this big backdrop. The parallel is that the things that bring Flash down are there in [the Tramp’s] personal life.”

Davies, dubbed by some as the godfather of Britpop for his influence upon Blur, Pulp, and Oasis, is the master of writing about flawed characters, with many of the songs being self-critical.

Davies says the problem with staging ”Preservation” is that 1) it wasn’t written for the stage, and 2) was in fact written under pressure. The Kinks’ recording contract, the band’s commitment to deliver new music, forced Davies to move ”Preservation” along the pipeline faster than he would have liked. Some of the linking segments, he suggest, need work. At the time, he says, ”I didn’t have much time to sit around, do workshops, and get fancy directors in. You just have to put the thing up and go out.”

What Davies has gleaned from the rock opera group’s rehearsal is this: ”I was amazed how the music carries the story.”

This story ran on page D12 of the Boston Globe on 10/02/98. © Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.

‘Preservation’ is packed with power Globe 1998

Boston Globe: Living | Arts
‘Preservation’ is packed with powerBy Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 10/05/98 | The Boston Globe Online |

IIt has been Boston Rock Opera’s mission, since its 1993 inception, to dust off, kick up, give respect to, and sometimes tweak the rock operas and story-songs of the past, such as ”Jesus Christ Superstar,” the Who’s ”A Quick One While’s He’s Away,” the Beatles’ ”Sgt. Pepper.” The company held a one-off performance of the Kinks’ ”Preservation Act 2” at the Middle East its first year. And it’s back with the full-blown ”Preservation” – a slightly edited composite of Acts 1 and 2 – at Tower Auditorium at Mass. College of Art. (Composer Ray Davies consulted with director Eleanor Ramsay and contributed several ”author’s notes.”)

The stage is mostly spare – three towers, four-tiered steps – and pretty much has to be to accompany the ever-swirling singers and dancers coursing through. It is directed by Jane Bulger and Ramsay, who with Mick Maldonado is Boston Rock Opera’s co-founder.

It’s a busy two hours of rockin’ theater. Glamour, greed, political scheming, science gone too far, socialism gone awry, and absolute power doing what it tends to do. At the start, the suave, yet brutal and duplicitous Mr. Flash (Maldonado) presides over the ”village.” Ah, but discontent is brewing. An everyman called the Tramp, a semidrunken sage played regally by Peter Moore, is our tour guide. Flash is challenged by the Mephisto-like smoothie, Mr. Black (Brian Gottesman), who gives lip service to creating a class-free society, but links up with the Vicar (Marty Barrett) and the Do-Gooders to stamp out smut, invoke censorship, and clamp down on personal freedom. With the aid of the Mad Scientist (spindly-legged Jim McKay), he turns Flash and the rest of the village into zombies. One by one, the townfolk pass through an arch and are jolted with a ray of brain-draining radiation. Flash’s girlfriend, the floosie-with-a-heart-of-gold Belle (Kay Hanley), goes kicking and screaming – and emerges zombified. Only the Tramp escapes. Poor Mr. Flash. After breaking down, proclaiming ”I’m everything that I once despised,” and recovering a semblance of humanity, Flash gets zapped. Cruel world. The shell-of-Flash and Mr. Black lead the new coalition government.

Thematically, ”Preservation” is one of Davies’s best works – both broad and intimate, politically savvy and righteously pessimistic. Everything sounds glorious – major chords rip from the eight-piece band, walloping crescendos abound, singers get to tear into their roles – but that’s just Davies’s way of writing uplifting songs about dire situations. Rottenness consumes this village and taints its hapless people. Davies warns of the pressure to conform; he touts the plight of the often-trampled common man; he believes politicians have only power and their pocketbooks in mind. Davies hammers away at the right-wingers; he zings the lying lefties.

”Preservation” is packed with strong songs. ”He’s Evil,” sung at each other by the warring Black and Flash camps, was brilliant. The Tramp’s cynical history lesson, ”Nobody Gives,” was dynamic – Moore ended the song in a ball on the floor, stomped by Flash’s men. Flash and Belle’s swan song, ”Nothing Lasts Forever,” brought a tear. The finale, the faux-triumphant ”Salvation Road,” is a joy to behold. Everyone except Mr. Black believes they’re marching off into a merry future.

There is a lot of action in this production, as with any BRO event. On stage, it’s a hurly-burly populated not just by the politicos but by schoolgirls, ”do-gooders,” henchmen, workers, businessmen. It seems like a cast of thousands (23, in fact) and it takes some work to keep everyone straight. Occasionally the miking was erratic. The first act is a rather long table-setter – most of the drama, conflict, and best songs come in the second act. But, taken either bit by bit or as a whole, ”Preservation” is a delight. It’s a mess out there in the village, but it sure feels good in the audience.

This story ran on page B06 of the Boston Globe on 10/05/98. © Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.