Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – can prepare you for the rock SPECTACLE that is the BROS production of Valhella,now playing at The Autograph Playhouse in Baltimore. From the electric banjo pre-show and Director Aran Keating’s opening Viking toast, to the ear pounding finale, Valhella is everything you ever wished for in your wildest rock opera dreams: mythic, larger-than-life, epic, cheesy, face-melting fun!
Artistic Director/Writer Jen Tydings has penned this tale based on Ragnorok, the Norse “grand finale of an epic cycle of death and rebirth – an end to corrupt gods and the immersing of the earth in water, before the world is born anew and the cycle can begin again.” A truce is broken between Odin (Gaines Johnston) and Loki of the underworld (Greg Bowen) when Odin frolics with a human maiden and conceives a son. Odin smites the young demibabe, but rather than destroying him, divides him into three “crippled” children: deaf Ivar (Ryan Dunne, “voiced” by hilarious translator Phillip Duccolo), blind Har (Keith Becraft), and mute Kar (Robert Bradley).
It sounds a little bit like the plot of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you, because Gotterdammerung put me to sleep, whereas Valhella left me on my feet screaming for more. The story is set to original music by The Beerded (John Decampos, Erica Patoka, Nicholas Speach, Chris “The Baron” Baines, John “Smelly” Smeltzer, Tyler “Dirty” Merchant, Zack “Legos” Branch), with lyrics by Patoka, Tydings and Decampos. Its style ranges from folk operatic (given soulful voice by the Norn trio of Kerry Brady, Britt Olsen-Ecker and Vangie Ridgaway) to metal, and sound designer Jeff Shadbach has perfected the balance in The Autograph Playhouse.
Johnston and Bowen rule the stage with dynamic performances and iron voices as Odin and Loki. Jack Sossman is a standout in multiple roles, most particularly the wolf Fenrir (created with an effect too cool to give away in this review). Becraft and Dunne/Duccolo provide comic relief as befuddled brothers. Act Two unleashes the two big guns of Valhella: the face-melting Danielle Robinette as Hel the Dead, who gives a voice to the even-more-face-melting Robert Bradley as brother Kar. Robinette and Bradley achieve Metal Goddess and God vocal quality in Valhella. Seriously. If they team up with The Beerded and produce a cd, I will be first in line to pick up a copy.
The real stars of Valhella are the army of prop, puppet, animation, costume, set, lighting and effects designers who transform the Playhouse into a lush forest, and plunge us into a fiery Nordic hell. BROS is an all-volunteer organization, and these artists prove that you don’t need a large budget to create a truly stunning design. They have pulled out all the stops with hand-drawn animation, animatronics, mummenschanz infused dance, puppets, and more.
If you’re still reading, then odds are good that tickets are already sold out. Did I mention the BROS are brewing their own Ragnorok inspired beers?
Go quickly! “Hail BROS! Hail Valhella! Get ye to Baltimore Rock Opera Society, the East Coast’s Mecca of Rock Theatre!
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.