6. Hammers of Misfortune – The Bastard
Hammers Of Misfortune's debut album, The Bastard, follows the Coen Brothers rule of good storytelling: Create a character you love, and then torture him. The titular-but-unnamed character seems like a nice guy living a peaceful life in a haunted woodland until he finds out his father, who abandoned him, rules a nearby kingdom. Revenge plots, trips to hell and faustian bargains follow.
The Hammers have gone on to make a few rock operas with more complex themes (I toyed with including The Bastard's immediate successor, The August Engine, on this list) but The Bastard's plot is as recognizably folkloric as the Celtic influences that guitarist and songwriter John Cobbett blends with his classic heavy metal. It's a surprisingly effective story with shades of Grimm's fairytales, Greek tragedy, and a slight environmentalist undertones, and feels timely even a decade after its release. The fact that the album is neatly divided into three acts and component chapters makes it an easy adaptation as well
The Hammers recorded this material with just three people playing all the parts, and that intimacy is part of its power. The story an intimate revenge drama writ large, and the band sounds like Iron Maiden as played by your friends in a sweaty basement. Imagine it as a black-box take on Sondheim's In The Woods, except with an evil axe.
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.