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Tales of Brotopia

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society drops Gründlehämmer

Photographs By Michael Northrup
Gründlehämmer in rehearsal.

By Michael Byrne | Posted 9/30/2009


October 2-4, 2640 Space

More information at Baltimore Rock Opera Society's website

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Gründlehämmer "takes place in a mythical medieval agrarian society where the power of rock music has the power to grow fruit, to fight enemies," Keating explains in an earlier interview, "where music has mythical, intense powers that will let you smite an enemy or let you . . . you know, like, the power of rock music will do all sorts of things.

"There's a good king, who represents a classic-rock sort of traditional old-time rock 'n' roll who is usurped--he's killed at the beginning of the play. It's kind of a musical progression from classic rock--some of the characters represent more of a power metal [vibe]. The dark king is a black-metal kind of thing. He usurps the throne and the story picks up when the dark king has 17 years of tyrannical reign and a young prince is coming of age in a tiny farming hamlet on the outskirts of the kingdom.

"And that's where the action picks up."

The rock opera is about as epic a form as exists, shy of the Verdi/Wagner-composed kind. Conceived and cultivated in the '60s and '70s by artists such as the Who (Tommy, Quadrophenia), David Bowie (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars), and, of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber (Jesus Christ Superstar), the form was kinda sorta reinvigorated in the aughties mainstream by the likes of Green Day, R. Kelly, and the Decemberists. In any era, though, nearly every rock opera has started with an album--with a central, character/plot-based narrative--and, later, maybe, a stage show. But there is no Gründlehämmer album to pave the way for this week's show--the rock opera was conceived with and only with an actual physical stage in mind.

The Why-a-rock-opera? question basically answers itself: "It's all-[encompassing]," DeCampos says. "It's long. You can't really ask for anything else. It's going to be in your face."

"For me, the reason I wanted to get involved--we understand how to play live music," Keating says. Indeed, both AK-Slaughter, his hip-hop duo with Emily Slaughter (who's doing costumes for Gründlehämmer, along with Susannah Horron), and DeCampos' video-game-music cover band Entertainment System and horror-film rock homage Sacrifice have chops for miles, without a script. "But what's the next level?" Keating asks. "We need to do something bigger. Music, OK. But add in actors, add in costumes, add in special effects, add in all that other stuff and it's more complete. It's everything. It's not just one piece. It's for your ears, for your eyes."

The sheer novelty of a rock opera--the city's second, at least, behind former Baltimore magazine editor Geoff Brown's 2002 production The Giant Clam--led to something remarkable happening: the community wanted to get involved. DIY scenes are known for being incestuous, or at least very tight, networks, but BROS found itself working with a number of relative strangers. "Being the Rock Opera Society, we're getting all kinds of people doing all kinds of things," Keating says. "None of us know how to make costumes. [We've found] people that know how to make theater props.

"To be honest, the core of people doing this aren't very connected in the theater world around here," Keating says of the nearly 50-person production, including 25 to 30 cast members and a six-person band. "We tried to cast it as wide as we could so we could try and get some serious talent."

One of those folks was Christopher Krysztofiak, who plays the lead role of the hero, Benedon. "I'd done quite a few musicals," Krysztofiak says, "but I'd never done a rock opera. It's been quite an experience, a lot of fun." At least part of the appeal he explains, was the fact that "it's an original piece of work--every aspect of it is original, from the script to the music. I heard some of the songs and they were outstanding. I talked to the director and some of the other people in the production crew, and they seemed really enthusiastic. And I thought I'd take a shot at it."

"And we have some first timers, too," Keating adds. "We've got this couple, Beverly and Michael, who are both in their 50s and have never been onstage before. . . and they're awesome."

"I did the audition and they liked my singing," Michael Collier says outside of an evening rehearsal. "And my air guitar." (He adds that he has been onstage before, in 1988, as part of a community theater production.)

"I think the discovery process is part of what drew me," explains Beverly Horozko. "It's something completely different."

"They're really good at making people feel comfortable," Collier adds, talking about the BROS brain trust, "at creating community."

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