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BWW Review: Powerful and Talented Musical Revue Will Make You ROAR

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Michelle Holmes (left), Corey Watkins (center)
and Davitt Felder

ROAR, standing for "Rock On American Resurrection," roared to life Thursday at its opening night at the Crown City Theatre Company in North Hollywood. In contrast to the intimate, quaint setting of a lobby no larger than my living room and a house whose maximum capacity has to be close to 100, ROAR made me (and probably the rest of the audience) feel like I was at a protest concert during the '60s (Act I) and '80s (Act II).

Directed by Antonia Bogdanovich, and conceived and written by Davitt Felder, ROAR is a protest musical revue that transported the audience to a time when rock and roll became the voice of the American people; when Americans ­­- both young and old - were fighting for what they believed in but politicians directed their powers elsewhere.

Felder and his band, which is aptly named The First Amendments, opened the show with "Down by the Riverside," a spiritual protest song dating back to the Civil War. Hugh Brockington III led the band with this song, but it was not until his Act II performance of B.B. King's "Why I Sing the Blues" that you really heard him sing. It was one of the best performances of the night.

Hugh Brockington III (left) and Davitt Felder
singing "Down by the Riverside"

Felder followed "Down by the Riverside" with spectacular covers of "Midnight Special" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." One of the many things I enjoyed about Felder was his ability to emulate and almost impersonate the artist he was singing. From his simultaneous playing of guitar and harmonica as Dylan to his sultry, deep-voiced Johnny Cash in "Folsom Prison Blues," it was like I was in Washington listening to Dylan play before Martin Luther King, Jr., or at Folsom Prison.

ROAR continued to catch me by surprise the entire night. With no real script (to my understanding), Felder used his knowledge and passion for classic rock and folk music to bring the show to life. I took a class in college called "Rock and Roll in American History," so I was familiar with much of what he said, but for the average viewer they received a rockin' good education. Felder would finish a song and open the next with a bit of historical background to not only teach but to give a setting for audience members. Clips played on a monitor above the band to make the setting even more palpable. Although it was a bit unconventional, the audience did not seem to mind, and neither did I.

Besides Felder and Brockington, one other person stood out as a vocalist: Michelle Holmes. Although I did not find her to be as vocally strong as Felder and Brockington, Holmes did hold her own as the only woman on stage with five men. She first graced us with her cover of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" which was not my favorite. However, she came back later in Act I as the voice of the female population, fantastically belting out Aretha Franklin's classic "Respect" and taking it down a notch with Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."

One of the highlights of the entire show was Felder and guitarist Noah Hernandez's take on Chuck Berry's "Promised Land." Felder absolutely nailed the vocals for one of rock and roll's greatest legends, and both his and Hernandez's guitar playing took me to a '50s, '60s rock hall where I just wanted to dance all night.

In Act II, we jumped 20 years and entered the 1980s. Costumes changed from casual business suits to a mix of hippie/Summer of Love attire and late '70s, early '80s disco. Felder opened with "The Power of Love," where Hernandez proved his guitar-playing talents once again by knocking out an unbelievable solo that made the entire audience cheer with applause.

Davitt Felder (left) and Noah Hernandez

After Felder sang "Freedom '90" by the late, great George Michael, Brockington delivered a jaw-dropping performance of "Why I Sing the Blues," which I had mentioned earlier. When he first sang "Down by the Riverside," he was stiff and holding on to the microphone; however, with B.B. King, energy erupted out of him, allowing him to take the stage by storm. Unfortunately, there were some microphone issues later in the show that kept us from hearing his wonderful background vocals, but that is what live theater is all about.

The Boss hit the stage when Felder and his raspy take on "Born in the U.S.A." reminded audience members the song is not about the privileges of America and being an American; rather it is about the terrible treatment toward Vietnam War veterans living in Ronald Reagan's America. As a fan of Springsteen (whose "Born in the U.S.A." poster hangs in my bedroom), I truly enjoyed Felder's homage and impersonation.

Felder included two of his own songs into ROAR, with one touching on the most recent election ("People of Reason") and the other highlighting how we need to turn the ME generation into the WE generation ("Incline Your Mind"). I found his songs to be refreshing, newer protest songs for a tumultuous political situation.

The show closed with three classics: Neil Diamond's "America," focusing on how beneficial immigrants are to this nation; Don McLean's "American Pie," which the entire house sang in unison; and Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." Before the show began, the theatre (a nonprofit organization) collected donations, which in the end were ultimately made to Planned Parenthood. The audience, well, roared.

In a way, ROAR is reminiscent of what is happening in our America today. Politicians are using their powers to strip this country of its immigrants, its diverse populations, its beautiful public land, and even the arts. Before his performance of "American Pie," Felder quoted Mark Twain saying, "History doesn't repeat itself. It rhymes." And sadly, we are proving Twain was right.

But if you loved HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL, you will undoubtedly love ROAR. If you did not love HAIR, you will still undoubtedly love ROAR because everyone, Bogdanovich included, were personable, friendly and casual. Take it from someone who doesn't like to venture to the Valley but did. That is how you know ROAR has to be a great time.

ROAR runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. now through May 7 at the Crown City Theatre Company located on the campus of St. Matthew's Church (11031 Camarillo St. in North Hollywood) next to the strip mall at the corner of Camarillo, Lankershim and Vineland. All tickets are $30. Make your reservations by calling 818-605-5685 or by going to www.crowncitytheatre.com.

*Other notable members of The First Amendments not mentioned include: Michael Anetsberger on the drums and Corey Watkins on the keyboard.

Photo Credit: Crown City Theatre Company


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