Not every theatrical producer has the opportunity to write, direct and produce his own musical, especially one based on his favorite musical genre.
That opportunity has been taken by Brendan Ragotzy producer of The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI where “Raunch and Roll,” with book by Ragotzy and original music by Troy Benton, Gary Cherone, Richard Marx and Fee Waybill, opened Tuesday evening for a one-week run.
This is the third Ragotzy original produced at The Barn, which has been in the Ragotzy family since it was begun by Brendan’s parents, Jack and Betty Ragotzy, more than 66 years ago. He and wife Penelope Alex Ragotzy have been the keepers of this theatrical flame since the elder couple passed away. Brendan’s earlier musicals had historical characters as the flawed heroes and the settings were the old west with one side trip to Hollywood. One was reworked and returned for a second run several years later.
I would not recommend this for “Raunch and Roll.”
Initially, I was put off by the title. When assured that the “Raunch” was minimal (language obviously doesn’t count), we decided to take a chance. Something new is always interesting, even if the author’s track record is, at best, shakey. I admit that during the “golden age” of R&R, I was less than interested in groups with abstract names and really loud sound tracks. My friend, however, admitted hearing every rocker who came through Bloomington during her undergrad days at IU, so I relied on her expertise for the second act, which was a rock concert.
She noted that part of the explosive ambiance of a rock concert was knowing the words to every song and joining in spontaneously. Difficult to do here when hearing the five “concert” tunes for the first time, especially since the mushy sound system completely negated any chance of understanding the lyrics, although I am sure that was never reallyimportant. Even the title, which the audience was encouraged to shout every few seconds when the tune appeared in the lineup, failed to recreate the real thing believably.
I looked at Act 1, for which there was absolutely no music at all, excepting blasts of recorded guitars to cover the frequent scene changes.
It began (and stayed) at a very low energy level, with heroine Roxy Starr (Penelope Alex), a”really big” rock star, waiting with her manager Carl Weinstein (Eric Parker) for her doctor (Steven Lee Burright) to deliver the final opinion on the success or failure of her three year treatment for cancer. He took forever to announce that she had only six months to a year to live. From then on, her bucket list was to make up to the local band she dumped on her way to stardom, to reconnect with her church-going mother (Kalamazoo actress Sharon Williams) and John, the son she gave up at birth (Jacob Ragotzy), and to spread her rockstar savings among his parents Tommy and Christine Tucker (Roy Brown and Emily Fleming) and band members whose bitterness at her decades-old desertion was overcome quickly by the size of her checks. Her final concert also managed to save from demolition the theater in which she initially played. Can you say cliche?
Unfortunately, in spite of the earnest performances by all concerned, there was never a suspension of disbelief, no matter how many times Roxy threw up. Contrived was the keyword, with stilted dialogue and pontifical declarations, especially by Parker as the designated wise man. As a plus, however, the band members — Brown, Jamey Grisham, Charlie King, Benton, Scott Marcus and Nicholas J. Pearson — were excellent rockers and Alex gave the vocals her all. Hopefully, the sound problem will be corrected soon enough to at least allow this week’s audiences the opportunity to hear what she is singing.
“RAUNCH AND ROLL” plays through Sunday in the theater on M96 between Augusta and Galesburg, MI. Tickets are $34. For show times and reservations call (269) 731-4545.