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Apocalypse wow

Blake High puts on an original rock musical, a tale of dragons, angels and the power of human love inspired by the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 14, 2003

As the nation sits in anticipation of a possible war in Iraq, students at Blake High School for the Performing Arts near downtown Tampa are reflecting on history and what war means to them.

Blake's next production, set in Vietnam, is not your average high school musical.

"I think it will really surprise people," said Eric Davis, director of musical theater at Blake. "It is unlike any other piece of theater I have read or been a part of creating."

The original score of Lotus Blooming in a Sea of Fire is written by Michael T. Roberts, 24, currently an artist-in-residence at Blake. Davis invited Roberts to Tampa to serve as the production's musical director. According to Roberts, this will be the first staged production of the musical.

Originally written as a rock opera, with no spoken dialogue, the show has evolved into a rock musical tale of dragons, angels and the power of human love. The story, inspired by the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, is not a historical recreation of the war, but rather a vision of an American soldier, Michael, trying to help his adopted 5-year-old Vietnamese daughter, Lien, understand her life. Javier Milanes, a Blake senior, portrays Michael. Linsea Waugh, also a senior, plays Lan, the central female character and Lien's birth mother.

The symbolic title of the musical was inspired by ancient philosophy. " 'Lotus Blooming in a Sea of Fire' is a Buddhist concept," said Roberts. "It represents the idea of peace and calm and beauty coming out of chaos. I saw it as a metaphor for what I was doing in the show, trying to bring something beautiful out of something horrible."

Davis notes Blake administrators were not concerned with producing a musical involving controversial events of the Vietnam War.

"We have a lot of freedom at this school because the quality of our work is so high," said Davis. "We are kind of expected to challenge our students and do things that maybe push the envelope a little bit. We are giving a different kind of experience in the arts than at a typical high school."

A small amount of violence occurs in the show but it is very stylized, Davis said. The subject matter, according to Davis, is mature and would not be entertaining for small children.

"It's controversial in a good way," said Davis. "It is going to cause people to think about things. It gives our students something more substantial and is a little more on the cutting edge of what musical theater can be."

To prepare for the show, students were encouraged to research the Vietnam War, as well as ask questions of a real Vietnam veteran who visited the theater before rehearsal one afternoon.

Roberts believes the show to be meaningful even if the audience knows nothing of the Vietnam War or the My Lai massacre.

"If someone came to the show unaware of the history," explained Roberts, "they could follow it and be entertained."

Lotus Blooming in a Sea of Fire runs Feb. 20-22 in Blake's Fine Arts Center. Show time is 7 p.m., and tickets are $10 at the door. For information, call 272-3422 ext. 691.

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