RAPA readies April 18 premiere of “Ella’s Lounge: A Rock Opera”

Tickets to the upcoming show are shown being sold recently at the Russell Flea Market. Facebook photo

On Russell High School stage

RUSSELL — The Russell Association for the Performing Arts (RAPA) presents the world premiere, its first love letter to rock music, Ella’s Lounge: A Rock Opera, at 7:30 p.m. on April 18 – 21, 2018 at 982 North Russell Road (Russell High School.)

Ella’s Lounge: A Rock Opera by Dave Rama and Kevin Kennedy is about a fractured family and its journey to music, love and restoration.

Local artist Dave Rama had a vision that had been stirring around in head for years, putting scenes down on paper, scribbling hundreds of notes on pages of chorus bars trying to make that a reality.  With support from his family and friends this vision has now become a reality. Dave, an accomplished sax player, has had a long history performing music but he always had a story he wanted to tell.

“The music of Ella’s Lounge was born from an idea that emerged from a jam session in 2004 or 2005,” said Rama. “An old band I played with used to record jams and then revisit them if we had any musical
idea that we liked.  One such melody came about that had a chilling and deep effect on me and I had tucked it into the back of my mind waiting for an opportunity to make it into a song. The opportunity finally came with Ella’s Lounge which weaves this melody as a theme throughout.  I also believe that my love for Pink Floyd and Roger Waters has manifested through some of this musical.”

Kevin Kennedy, a drama teacher at Russell High School and now RAPA veteran, believed in Rama’s vision as well. The two have done a few plays together — Young Frankenstein, George Washington Slept Here, and a murder mystery or two. It was through these experiences that Rama and Kennedy, formed their creative partnership. When asked what the toughest, or easiest thing to accomplish, Kennedy responded that nothing was necessarily tough.

“We just had to respect, and accept, that it was a process. There would be changes, some ideas wouldn’t work, and Dave and I would occasionally see things differently. But we also trusted each other to do our jobs and bring this thing to life. The easiest part was working with RAPA cast and crew that I had previously worked with — and knowing that they knew me and trusted me.”

Producer Sandra McNeill noted, “RAPA, Russell Association for the Performing Arts, selects its plays through a play reading committee.  Artists approach the board with a suggestion and the committee reads them and makes its recommendation to the board. This particular venture was brought forward by Dave, Kevin and myself.  Dave is a very persuasive individual and he kept the board continually updated on the progress of the writing and composing.  Along the way, the board became more and more convinced that this would be a viable undertaking. We are thrilled with what is taking shape.”

Scott Tomlinson, who plays Roger, and father to Nick, says “Nick, is struggling with the recent death of his wife, Ella.  Roger, a grizzled rocker who has his own band, the Rock Knockers, was also a ‘Roadie’ or band tech for his wife during her celebrated music career.  The tone of this play is that of a journey from loss and grief to love and acceptance with generous amounts of humour sprinkled throughout.

Tomlinson played a part in developing the music, and when asked what he learned from the experience, he stated “I learned that developing lyrics for a musical really depends on having a solid understanding of the feeling that is meant to be conveyed at that moment in the play.  The script is important; it drives the story forward and the music and lyrics really help to build the emotion and feeling in the production.  The sum of these parts is what we are very excited to share with our audience.“

He continued, “The song writing has had a profound influence on the character development and the depth of emotion that Roger feels throughout the play. But we also temper those deep feelings with lighter moments through the songs performed by the Rock Knockers.

“The whole process was a learning experience,” said Kennedy. “Dave and I would sit and discuss a scene and I’d write some dialogue. Then we’d test it out and make some adjustments. Then a couple days later Dave would send me an amazing song — either out of that scene or leading into the next one. So I knew that I could write dialogue but I learned that I can definitely not write lyrics! Best to leave that to Dave, Scott and the rest of our talented cast who have made contributions.”

McNeill, who has had professional experience in play development as the director and coordinator of the PetroCan New Play Workshops at Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre, agrees, “The playwright’s vision is what is at the heart of this kind of work.  People should come to see this play for the beautiful music, the sweet story and the talent of the players.” She continues “It is, important that we do plays that are new, exciting and engaging, not just the ‘marquee’ draws.”

So, how has been working with a local volunteer organization to get this play on stage?

Rama said, “Amazing.  RAPA has been so supportive and has shown a lot of faith in us.  I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this theatre group and all of the cast and crew who have poured their heart and souls into this!”

The production involves not only an ensemble of local actors but an onstage band, a pit band, a rock choir and full dance crew. From on stage to back stage, this is a true gathering of local talent to make a dream a reality.