After string of setbacks, Baltimore Rock Opera Society ready to reclaim spotlight

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Founded on beer and bravura, the Baltimore Rock Opera Society jumped into the spotlight in 2009 with an original three-hour-plus epic called Grundlehammer. Since then, the BROS — as the company is popularly known — managed to keep the shows coming despite assorted challenges.

For years, the BROS faced a nomadic existence; its six most recent productions were presented in six different venues. Worse was the hurdle that arose late last year.

That’s when the city, citing safety code violations, abruptly shuttered the Bell Foundry, where the BROS had maintained office, workshop and rehearsal space since 2013. Then came a break-in at the shuttered property; the BROS lost a good deal of equipment.

Well, to borrow that immortal anthem by Chumbawamba, the BROS get knocked down, but they get up again; no one is going to keep them down. On Friday, the company opens its first and only production for 2017, an extravagant sci-fi comedy, “The Terrible Secret of Lunastus,” at Zion Lutheran Church.

“I’m super-psyched about what we’re going to put onstage,” says artistic director Aran Keating. “I think the group has built a really great show. The whole thing is mind-blowing. And it’s funny.”

The ups and downs of the past year caused a delay in producing “The Terrible Secret of Lunastus,” which had originally been planned for last spring.

“We tried not to waste the extra time we got after the disentangling from the Bell Foundry,” Keating says.

Part of that time was spent on fundraising efforts and scouting around for a possible permanent home in Baltimore. There was time, too, to do some tweaking to the script of “Lunastus,” which had its premiere in 2011, and to record the soundtrack.

Written and directed by Chuck Green, the piece tells the kind of tale you expect the BROS to tell.

“My inspiration came from ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and the other science fiction shows I watched growing up,” Green says. “It’s about the fate of the human race, which is in the hands of four astronauts and a robot trying to find a new home. There are comedic situations, but with an epic scope to it.”

The planet Lunastus turns out to be a good fit for humans, but it’s already home to some life forms.

“They’re nice, but they have a secret they’re covering up,” Green says. “You’ll have to see the show to find out what the secret is.”

Green has revised the text for the revival — “There’s a lot more depth to the characters,” he says — and his collaborator, Erica Patoka, has revisited the score.

“When I asked her to write the music, I gave her songs by Meat Loaf and David Bowie to give her an idea, and she came back with something that sounds almost like acid rock of the ’80s,” Green says. “It was a hit with audiences in 2011. And Erica has added two new songs for 2017.”

With about 100 volunteers working on the project, this revamped “Secret,” which will be unveiled in the Adlersaal (“Eagle's Hall”) of historic Zion Church, promises extra visual kick, too.

“The sheer amount of labor and lumber we’ve brought into that space is amazing,” Keating says. “There will be five or six levels of staging, with video, lots of creatures, a giant puppet and a laser apparatus.”

After this production, the BROS will focus on its first collaboration with Arena Players, Inc. in February. Also in the works is a production for spring, a horror spoof — “It’s ‘The Munsters’ meets ’Frasier,’ ” Keating says.

All the while, the company will continue beefing up its budget and its prospects for what Keating calls “our forever home.”

“Finding the right property takes a long time,” he says. “I believe within the next two years we will have a home that will last at least 20 years, if not 7,000. But for the time being, the goal is to stay active. We plan to keep on rocking.”

If you go

“The Terrible Secret of Lunastus” opens Friday and runs weekends through Oct. 8 at Zion Lutheran Church, 400 E. Lexington St. General admission is $20; $50 and $100 for reserved seating (plus assorted perks). Call 410-538-2767, or go to baltimorerockopera.org.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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