Life Sunday, November 10, 2002
A classic is reborn at the Pentacle

TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal

Kara Quello as Futura the Robot and Tim Smith as Freeman, along with other cast members, rehearse the Pentacle Theatre's production of the musical "Metropolis."
Musical opening at the Pentacle and the local director who revised it eventually will make their way to Off-Broadway.

Statesman Journal
November 10, 2002

Musicals are a rare treat in the Pentacle Theatre season, but something even more rare is coming Friday.

"Metropolis," a musical version of the 1927 Fritz Lang film, premiered in London in 1989 but never made it to Broadway, at least not yet. On Friday, Pentacle opens a new version of the musical, in part a collaboration between New York composer and writer Joseph Brooks and Salem director Randy Bowser.

This version, with 30 percent new material, is planned for an Off-Broadway production, which Bowser has been invited to direct.

With music by Brooks and a book and lyrics by Brooks and Dusty Hughes, "Metropolis" has come a long way from the classic silent film, according to Bowser, who also recorded the score electronically.

He compares "Metropolis" the musical to a large company of dramatic musicals, such as "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables," noting that it has a wide range of musical styles and is done virtually as opera: Almost all the dialogue is sung.

The result, particularly in the love songs, is romantic, tuneful, melodic and popular in nature.

"It's a very visceral show," Bowser said. "It really plays on your emotions rather than your head. It's not going to be a quiet show."

With a cast of 33, large even for a Pentacle musical, "Metropolis" has 20 songs and a lot of choreography: Three choreographers, Geri Brost, Lisa DeCina and Carrie Wood, worked on the show.

Tony Zandol's set recreates a mechanized world, with large gears, a clocklike device and a mechanical look, and Bowser is promising some surprising effects and elaborate lighting.

The story is set in the future as a class struggle erupts in an art deco mechanized super-city, where the workers are confined below ground, running the machines that fuel the luxurious life of the elite above ground.

The love of the two central characters leads the city's oppressed working class to a brighter future, but only after an evil robot, designed by the elite to replace the workers' heroine, threatens to destroy Metropolis and all its inhabitants.

The story sounds dark, but Bowser said Brooks has put a new emphasis on the love story since the London opening at the Piccadilly Theatre, and Bowser himself sees "Metropolis" as an allegory pertinent to our time.

The musical is not interested in the world above ground but in the world of the workers, who rebel against doing meaningless labor.

"In the modern context, these are the people who are making our tennis shoes for 25 cents," Bowser said.

The original's socialist dogma has been supplanted by a love story, between Steven (Jeff Baer), who comes from the elite, and Maria (Kara Quello), the leader of the workers.

With a large cast of newcomers, "Metropolis" has "absolutely the strongest group of singers I've ever had in a show," Bowser said.

"Many new people and exciting voices throughout the entire company."

Some of the new actually is newer than usual: The first woman cast as Maria, new to Pentacle, was replaced after the Nov. 2 rehearsal.

"She finally told me she couldn't make all the performances," said Bowser, who did not have an understudy.

"It was stunning, stunning."

Luckily, Quello, the assistant vocal director, was someone he had considered for Maria, and he was able to arrange for her to take the part.

The trauma actually may help the show.

"It's really engendered a group spirit," Bowser said. "We'll be fine."

So how did a little-known musical make its way to Salem on the way to Broadway?

Bowser, a longtime science fiction fan, fell in love with the film at age 12 and heard about the existence of the musical three years ago while surfing the web.

Discovering that Brooks, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, had the rights, he telephoned the Piccadilly Theatre for a week trying to get a phone number.

Over the course of two long conversations, the two clicked.

"Joe said, 'Actually, I have the beginning of rewrites; perhaps that's what we can do in Salem,' " Bowser said.

"Some of the rewrites were just ideas. Several of the songs I arranged because there was no score.

"And we collaborated on new dialogue."

Brooks visited Salem for two days in June and plans to return for opening night with a producer.

Pentacle's version, by necessity more intimate, should be an improvement on the overproduced London version, said Bowser, who has done musicals such as "Hair" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at Pentacle.

"Brooks was really good about not wanting to step on my toes as far as ideas I had," Bowser said.

Not surprisingly, he is living up to his idea with "Metropolis" that the director should be the loudest cheerleader possible.

"I'm really proud of the incredible amount of work they've done, the incredible results we're getting," Bowser said.

The principals in the cast include Tim Smith as Freeman, Bill Brown as Warner, William McClenathan as Jeremiah and Groat, Justin Tissue as George, Brittany Bilyeu as Jade, Greg Schmerber as Marco and Ani Cruz as Lulu. Many of the cast members have dual roles.

The technical staff includes Scott Reichlin, vocal director; Larry Roach, assistant director; Susan Schoaps, costume designer; and Frank Fullerton, guitarist and sound engineer.

Ron Cowan can be reached at (503) 399-6728.


When: Friday through Dec. 7: 8:15 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7:15 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and 2 p.m. the first two Sundays

Where: Pentacle Theatre, 324 52nd Ave. NW, Salem

Cost: $19 opening night, $18 other nights. Nov. 19 benefit tickets $20 by calling (503) 391-7351

Call: (503) 485-4300

Copyright 2002 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon