Directed by G. J. Cederquist
Music Director Jeremy Ramsey
Produced by Modofac Productions
At The Theatre Building Chicago
Original rock opera about the war in Kosovo wears thin
With a book, lyrics and music by Law Professor Henry H. Perritt, Jr., You Took Away My Flag is a completely sung through rock opera in the style of Evita or Rent. As many of my readers know, I’m not a fan of rock musicals or pop/rock operas filled with recitative or sung dialogue that quickly sounds alike and becomes difficult to understand. Add the poor sound quality that had the music (especially the percussion) drowning out much of the singing and you have a tedious show. Despite having most of the actors wearing microphones that may have been set too low or not on at all, I had trouble hearing many of the singers. (I was seating in the second row only a few feet away from the stage.)
I’d advise dropping the recitative in favor of spoken dialogue for clarity and to give some of the arias more power. Doing that would also save strained cast members their voices. Among the irritating, sounding alike underscoring music there are a few wonderful anthems and emotionally rich songs that tend to get lost in the never ending music.
The story personalizes the plight of the Kovosar Albanians against their Serbian rulers. Narrated by an American reporter (sung nicely when I could hear him by Brian Birch), we meet two young waiters who are constantly being harassed by the Serb soldiers. Arian (the excellent singer Jordan Phelps) is infuriated with his sister, Vjosa (Amy Steele) falls in love with a Serbian policeman, Dragon (the outstanding vocal chops from Shaun Nathan Baer). When Arian’s best friend, Fahri (Ethan Saks) is killed by the Serbs, Arian decides to join the KLA, a Kosovo militia.
We see how the KLA tries to fight a ‘clear’ guerrilla war against the Serbs (a hard to believe scenario given all the atrocities by all side in the Balkans).
The rock opera covers a wide range of emotions, actions including violence. With the over powering music and the uneven vocals by some players, You Took Away My Flag is long on rock anthems, a cliche-ridden story and several false endings. Director G. J. Cederquist tries to keep the show focused but he was stuck with too many songs and stock situations. The ending had several anthems and patriotic songs that made me think I was at a UN festival.
This show needs drastic cuts, better sound mix and less recitative. Too much music and strained, sound-alike singing dialogue deludes some of Perritt’s terrific arias. The cast worked hard and several new faces did yeoman work. Jordan Phelps, Ethan Saks, Brian Birch and especially Shaun Nathan Baer were particularly outstanding. Once this show gets trimmed and focused better (with less music and recitative), it could emerge as stage worthy. As it now plays, it is a work-in-progress with hints of being a vanity project.
At The Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call773-929-7367, tickets 438 – $48, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8:15, Saturday & Sunday matinees at 3 PM, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.