20th Century history is one full of expansion, diversity, and the start of total globalization. The century will be remembered for the world rebellion that happened, the complete takeover of industries and the rise of technology on our lives. One of the most important and influential cultural exports was the explosion of music genres, and none was more influential at the beginning of this global connection than Rock and Roll music. This genre spawned a multitude of subgenres, which themselves had sub-genres. It helped create an almost universal sound which every society could identify with, the rebellious yell of generations that were experiencing the brutal upheaval of many civilizations. Sadly, the century will also be remembered (and maybe mostly remembered) because of wars and dictators. World War I & II, Cold War, Vietnam, Korea, Stalin, Mao, Fidel…. Those names will always be sketched in history. That change, the struggle, that life gave birth to these extraordinary people that manage with their music for a whole world to hold hands in anger, love, understanding, and revelations. And it is one of those people that “Rock and Roll Refugee” is based upon, and man, I think we have an early contender for my top Off/Off-Off Broadway production of the year.
“Rock and Roll Refugee,” written by Chris Henry, tells the story of music icon Genya Ravan, the singer of the first all-girl band to be signed to a major label: Goldie and The Gingerbreads. From there she went on to become a pioneer and an important part of pop music history. But this is not that part of the story, this is before all that, before she sang her first gig. This is the story of when she had to flee her homeland and become an American. This is the story of many, full of heartbreaks, changes, confusions, and ultimately victories. This is a story for every immigrant that felt this land stripped their identity. This is her story, and while it’s being told and performed by a superb cast, it is the connection between her history and her music that created the backbone. Rape, anger, indoctrinations, etc… all these things will come back to be exorcised off her life by her songs. And the way this is expressed by Chris Henry, it’s just one of the many wins he can claim with this production.
I want to talk a bit more in depth about the two actresses playing Genya. I don’t like talking about the plot much, as I see it as a disservice to the paying audience to spoil anything. So I’m tremendously horrified of what I‘m about to do, but just to explain the brilliance of these two parts of one character I will have to. Katrina Rose Dideriksen singing as an already established Genya over her younger counterpart played by Dee Roscioli will haunt me, as it haunted the stage, for some time. Their chemistry on stage as a Holocaust Survivor growing of age, and an important singer gives power to the moments we live with them. The scene in which Genya gets betrayed by her husband on their first night is a prime example of how to direct a scene so powerful that it can only be expressed through music. They compliment each other, they help each other move, and at the end when survivor Genya takes stage and becomes who we know, they had the audience and me in the palm of their hand. And what an ending!
I will say this, I really enjoyed this production, but I wish it had a second act. It almost felt like I was watching the first act. And we were, we were seeing the first act of someone’s life that became more than just a life. It became a movement. She became a statement. Well… I have to say we were spoiled to a sort of second act when Genya herself was actually in the audience and ended singing for us. Not everybody will be that lucky to stand in her presence, but we were. But everybody can be as lucky to see this production. The Royal Family Productions team has put on a musical which should get attention, and that brings attention to somebody that should never be forgotten. I recommend full heartedly that you get your butt to the Royal Family Arts Center and enjoy a story so universal to immigrants but so unique to our culture that has the same balance as the two actresses playing her on stage. It will haunt you, but it will also makes you believe.
*All images via Russ Rowland
Out of 4 stars:
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