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Performing Arts

‘Mars’ attacks!

As part of Lyric’s ‘Rokademy’ class, nine students have created an original rock musical, ‘Teenagers on Mars.’

Richard York May 11th, 2011

Teenagers on Mars
2 and 7 p.m. Saturday
Lyric at the Plaza, 1727 N.W. 16th, 524-9312
$7 advance, $10 door


Matthew Alvin Brown is no stranger to the rock musical. In fact, he’s this town’s greatest champion of it. A former guitarist/vocalist for the rock band The Fellowship Students, the local stage actor not only has the pedigree, but the passion.

“I love rock musicals,” Brown said.

“It goes back to when I was a kid. The idea of a story told through rock music just hit me in the head.”

That led him to starring in last winter’s successful production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and a role next month in Pollard Theatre’s “Passing Strange,” two of his all-time favorites.

“Those are examples of theater that maintain the integrity of real, raw rock music,” he said.

So when Stephen Hilton, director of education of Lyric Theatre’s Thelma Gaylord Academy, approached him about starting a “rock school” class last year, Brown immediately saw it as a unique opportunity to create an original rock musical. Armed with his enthusiasm, “Rokademy” was born.

“(The kids) all had to audition,” Brown said. “All came in and either sang or brought in a musical instrument.”

“We talked about what the theme of the show would be: space. I wanted to do a space rock show,” Brown said.

Everyone pitched in with ideas for characters, costumes and the futuristic plot: On an overpopulated Earth, nine teenagers are selected by the planet’s ruling computer to colonize Mars. Song selection, however, had to pass muster with the headmaster. Brown wanted to expose young ears to music they otherwise might not encounter.

“I pointed them in the direction of some things to listen to, and they brought some things to the table. And I vetoed most of them in favor of good songs,” he said. “I’m just kidding, kind of.”

They eventually settled on 14 subject-appropriate numbers like David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” as well as choice cuts from The Flaming Lips, Radiohead and, at one student’s urging, Heart.

“I begged to do ‘Magic Man,’” said Haley Davis, 15.

Exposure to this music seems to have had an impact on the students, open ing doors and inspiring curiosity. When asked if they would now listen to, say, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” on their own, the answer was a unanimous “yes.”

“Mission accomplished,” Brown said. But what these kids are learning is a lot more than the contents of their professor’s iPod. Said Davis, “Confidence.

Definitely confidence.”

“Last year, we did ‘I Love Rock N’ Roll’ and they were singing it like they were in church. It was an arduous task to get them to let go and scream,” Brown said. “I don’t think they’ve ever been in a class where the rule is just be as crazy as you possibly can.”

Letting go doesn’t seem to be an issue this time, if one of their final rehearsals is to be judged. And nothing says crazy quite like opening the show with Rush’s “2112 Overture,” except for the fact that they’re pulling it off.

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