10. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera
What do musicals and Southern rock have in common? Normally, a complete lack of subtlety. On the surface Southern Rock Opera fits the stereotype: three guitars, long passages of ranting narration, copious vocal twang, all entwined to retell the story of Lynrd Skyrnd. But beneath the cliches, Drive-By Truckers composed a nuanced musical narrative that is as much about postmodernism as it is about Ronnie Van Zandt.
At its heart, Southern Rock Opera explores the "duality of the 'Southern thing.'" Its story leaps in time and place, with songs sung from the perspectives of outcast Alabama teenagers in "The Three Great Southern Icons" to Satan himself in the next song, "Wallace." The results sound like the Allman Brothers, but tug at heartstrings like R.E.M. In fact the record strays so far from the mold of the '70s bands it so openly idolizes that it can be too subdued -- excepting "The Southern Thing," there is a lack of big, powerful guitar licks.
Southern Rock Opera borrows the appeal of Bye-Bye Birdie: It presents a sellable musical icon and image, as well as bombast in a familiar and realistic setting. It's easy to imagine Southern Rock Opera coming onstage with a talented ensemble cast in a wide age-range with a set composed of projector screens displaying real pictures of 1970s Alabama, the Swampers, and Lynrd Skynrd. Southern Rock Opera at its core is a celebration of the best aspect of the American South. Namely a willingness to rebel against conformity on one's own terms -- also the best aspect of modern theater.
The world has come a long way since the Who released Tommy in 1969. Tomorrow night, a stage adaptation of the Flaming Lips’ seminal 2002 rock opera Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots will premiere at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse. It’s not Broadway, but it is an indicator that the era of the rock opera could make a comeback. And this is the perfect time for a revival of the style.
The musical industry is hungry for material, but if Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark was any indication, musicals cannot draw from the same material movies do. Consider, on the other had, how well Rock Of Ages did, even if its filmic adaptation fumbled — there is an appetite for familiar music onstage.
Fortunately for Broadway, the music industry has produced a wealth of legitimately good rock operas (and hip-hoperas), most of which remain unadapted for the stage. And no, most of them are not what you would call “classic rock,” although some are. The relative self-indulgence of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Rush’s 2112 has ebbed, for the most part, in favor of coherent stories, and characters that develop with the plot.
Music and theater at their best stir something in an audience. There’s a swell of feeling produced in a live setting that can’t be replicated anyplace else. Here are the 10 rock operas most urgently in need of a stage adaptation, with some ideas for how such a production might be carried out. Make your case for My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade in the comments.