If there was ever a way to start an Egyptian-themed rock opera, tripping out on sheets of papyrus is close to the top. And thanks to the Baltimore Rock Opera Society’s “6-D” glasses, the audience of “The Electric Pharaoh” can share in the mood as three as-of-yet-unidentified characters move across the smoke- and laser-laden stage. The screen behind them shows that they’re moving through hyperspace or something as they focus their attention on a long and undulating pyramid of light. They talk in an unintelligible language and finally one character leaps into the center with a loud crack and appears to be electrocuted, breaking the rest of them out of the trip.
Created and written by Chuck Green, “Electric Pharaoh” quickly immerses us in the fully fleshed-out world of New Memphis’ caste system where everything is dependent on “volts,” the currency/power source which is mined by the second-class “Dimmers” and doled out by the mysterious and powerful Pharaoh. Obviously, unrest and resentment simmer. There’s intrigue, corruption, mysticism as Chenzira (Jon Dallas) and Tariq (Corey Hennessey), two oppressed Dimmers, and their upper-class priestess friend Amunet (Danielle Robinette) of the “Luxie” caste try to figure out the mysteries they experienced in their papyrus trip.
In true BROS fashion, the musical numbers are equally compelling and cheeky with a heavy dose of bombasticism. We’ve got the wonderful Eric Poch, who plays Esper, the sadistic commander of the Pharaoh’s police force, singing the ditty ‘Torture Makes Me Feel Just Fine’ as he shaves with a straight razor. It’s a real nod to classic Broadway show tunes, and the way he dances with his nightstick makes you imagine him in a top hat and coat tails with a glittering stage set with the word “torture” spelled out in lights behind.
Dallas, as the visionary, and Hennessey (2012’s “Best Musical Actor”), as the revolutionary, have a great rapport that helps us believe they’re lifelong best friends. This bond is spelled out to the audience at the beginning, but then shown to us as they go through celebration, revelation, and betrayal together. Robinette’s performance as Amunet gives her the opportunity to portray a deep change in her character. She’s newly friends with people who lead a completely different life than she does and through that friendship is confronted with the inherent inequalities in her society. She has to come to terms with the realities of why her life is arbitrarily better than theirs, and that struggle gives us a fantastically sung piece called ‘Puzzle in Time.’ The three of them as characters complement and contrast each other in a way that moves the plot forward as they strive for revolution. The result is moving, funny, and even a bit inspiring, in a “Star Wars” sort of way (they make a couple references to the flick).
The costuming is creative, with the high-class Luxies in a mix of hieroglyphically-inspired outfits with LED trims and shimmering fabrics and the Dimmers in raggedy leprosy-chic garb. The police force kind of looks like they came right from a “TRON” cosplay event, but in a good way. The dance choreography works well with the costumes, and boy is there a lot of dancing. The ceremonial dancing as well as the dance-party moves are all tinged with the Bangles-inspired Ancient Egyptian dance move so popular at parties.
Given the huge creative team, it’s not surprising that the production value of “Electric Pharaoh” was outstanding. BROS is not a Broadway company, or even Off-Off-Broadway. But the quality of this show demonstrates the care and love put into it—as evidenced by touches such as Kevin Blackistone’s hand-animated projections that created most of the backdrop. These details come together with great acting, superb singing, and the live band (Leo & The Sky Leopards) to create something damn close to the “overall art” that Wagner hoped opera would be. After this week’s run, the BROS are taking their show on the road. With such high-quality, engaging, and superfun pieces, we can’t wait until they come back and can only hope for a second run.
“The Electric Pharoah,” by Chuck Green, will be performed by the Baltimore Rock Opera Society at the Lithuanian Hall through Oct. 26.