Photos by Brooke Hall and story by Justin Allen
Words alone fail to relate the spectacular experience of witnessing the Baltimore Rock Opera Society’s double feature, Amphion and The Terrible Secret of Lunastus. These two productions are a triumph of sensory stimulation. The music digs deep into our psyche to conjure places we long to visit and, at times, nostalgia while the sets and lighting have the potential to lift you up from your seat and deliver you into the heart of these stories. All told the experience of being present at their final dress rehearsal before opening night was nothing less than inspirational. This production represents the vision of a highly creative and motivated group of artists that I’m certain will leave a lasting impact on the city of Baltimore.
It was more than the content of these rock operas that make this story particularly awesome. What we witnessed, at the theater that they’re currently renovating, is an amazing display of cooperation. The line between cast and crew was blurred as many of the people working on the production played multiple roles. Much of the staff were volunteers and I have to assume that no one there expected to profit from the staging of this show. One can only marvel at what this company has produced on a shoestring budget. What I saw was group of individuals, working together, to build something larger than themselves. This seems to be a common theme we keep running into these days.
The first of the double features was a tragic tale of forbidden love between Narseen, a Persian princess, and a Byzantine rock star named Amphion, played by Adam Endres. Endres first appearance is marked by a high energy dance number that sets the bar high for the rest of the evening. His larger than life stage persona seems tailor made for the rare brand of exaggeration necessary for rock opera.
Both productions were accentuated by the participation of members of Effervescent Collective. I can’t imagine either of these productions without the exquisite choreography that raises the expressiveness to another level. Neither show would have been nearly as entertaining without these dancers.
Narseen was played by Melissa O’Brien whose powerful vocals were one of the highlights of Amphion. When set to some of the production’s hard rock compositions one is reminded of Pat Benatar, who incidentally, was a classically trained coloratura.
The music of Amphion harkens back to a simpler time when Randy Rhodes was still alive and Metallica had yet to sell out. You can hear Iron Maiden with a hint of Deicide, middle eastern melodies, and Inidan drones in the compositions.
I have to be honest, after watching Amphion we weren’t sure whether or not we could sit through another hour and a half of rock opera. The show was amazing but the experience was intense. And then we stayed to watch the set change, which in itself, was fascinating. The sets for Amphion and The Terrible Secret of Lunastus couldn’t be any more different and the fact that they even attempted to stage both productions back to back is impressive. We decided to stay long enough to get pictures for this story and were so entertained we stayed for the entire show. The Terrible Secret of Lunastus was brilliant.
The part of the robot was played to perfection by Lily Susskind who apparently was channeling the spirit of C3PO as she shuffled around the stage. Her performance allowed for the effortless suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to get lost on the alien world Lunastus.
The set design and costuming for was completely awe inspiring. This is the story of a group of Earthlings in search of a home after their planet had been destroyed. Their ensuing adventures once they find their way to Lunastus are both fantastical and hilarious.
Just when I turned to Brooke to see if she had enough photos to do the story, this happened. Corey Hennesey, in the role of Ionos, completely stole the show and blew our ever loving mind. Hennesey is an unbelievably talented performer who is a star waiting to happen. He expresses himself with his entire body and has an amazing voice to match. Over two hours into the show his performance made us feel as though we had just sat down and kept us eagerly glued to our seats.
Tim Olewnik captured the essence of the stereotypical arrogant American meathead in his role as Paul. His expression, gestures, and movement onstage while performing gloriously corny rock songs are spot on. I found myself laughing during his entire performance whenever the spotlight was on him.
It must be said that the theater is still currently in the midst of being renovated so when going to the show you have to expect it to be little rough around the edges but honestly it adds to the overall experience. When you go the BROS double feature you’re not only going to watch two spectacular productions, you’re also giving your support and taking part in building something truly inspirational. This is just the beginning of I what I am sure is going to be the amazing story of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society.