Cover your butts, DC: the Baltimore Rock Opera Society is about to invade Atlas Performing Arts Center with their brand new rock musical Electric Pharaoh, fresh from completing its first run at Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore. Powered by an all-volunteer army of performing artists and creative world builders, the BROS consistently put forth the most innovative and spectacular original productions imaginable. Electric Pharaoh is touted as the BROS’ most technically ambitious project to date, and that promise is fulfilled with electronically engineered costumes, lazers, puppets, 3D animated projections and much more.
The sci fi story, written chiefly by Chuck Greenand directed by Mason Ross, concerns a post-apocalyptic world where electricity has become the currency of life and the land. It is controlled by a reclusive Electric Pharaoh (Amanda J. Rife) who dwells in a mechanical pyramid. Three young misfit friends – the impoverished “dimmers” Chenziaa (Jon Dallas) and Tariq (Corey Hennessey), and the wealthy but rebellious Amunet (Danielle Robinette) – set out to start a revolution, and along the way they discover secrets within Chenziaa that unravel the mysteries of the pyramid.
The greatest strength of Electric Pharaoh is the music (credited to Music Director Stephen Frank, Vocal Director, and Assistant Music Director Erica Patoka, Zach Branch, and Tim Olewnik), which blends electronic music and garage rock to create a soaring futuristic sound that is sure to appeal to fans of Nine Inch Nails and Muse. The music team creates a sophisticated layering of synthesizers and guitars that seems all-but-miraculous in live performance.
In every BROS show, a new rockstar emerges. This time it is Amanda J. Rife as a Darth Vader-like Electric Pharaoh. Her powerhouse rock vocals in “Cascade” would be impressive in itself, but the fact that she sings standing on stilts and wearing a mask earns her the Rock Goddess mantle of this BROS production. Rife embodies the rare combination of actress and legitimate rocker – her performance is chilling.
Returning rockstars Danielle Robinette and Corey Hennessey turn in similarly impressive vocal performances. In a refreshing change of pace for rock theatre, the central romance is a gay love story between Hennessey’s revolutionary Tariq and the protective Million (played by golden-voiced Derek Vaughan Brown). The duo have smoldering chemistry, and the audience easily becomes invested in their relationship. As Chenziaa, Jon Dallas is everything that Star Wars fans once hoped for in young Anakin Skywalker. He builds a heroic and sympathetic character who struggles to control the dark and light power emerging from within him.
The scene stealer of show is Eric Poch, who crafts a Tarantino-worthy villain in his portrayal of the insidious commander Esper. When Poch breaks into the unexpected a capella ditty “Torture Makes Me Feel Just Fine” (also penned by Poch), it is simultaneously the show’s most ridiculously hysterical and terrifying moment.
Unfortunately, the thing that prevents Electric Pharaoh from being a perfect rock musical are epically long scene changes. The show clocks in at nearly 3 hours and 30 minutes, and while the material itself is engaging enough to sustain the time, the scene changes constantly break the momentum of the music and Judy Kurjan-Frank’s fluid choreography. To his credit, Director Ross utilizes the amusing convention of dressing his stage crew as cats, which provides some levity as some of the more – ahem – inebriated members of the audience enjoy “meowing” during the many changes (though entering the forth hour, a few aggressive “woofs” started to break out). In the upcoming DC and Philadelphia performances, Ross would do well to work with his music team to choreograph scene changes that flow organically from one scene to the next.
All hail the BROS! DC audiences are in for a treat, because true to their track record, the BROS know how to put on an electrifying show.
Running Time: Three hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.