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'Wall' cast performs for love, not money

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


If you don't know one of the cast or crew members in the production of Pink Floyd's The Wall that just finished its third annual run at Richey Suncoast Theatre, try to make friends before the next show.

That's because you have to know someone connected with the show to get into this super-spectacular, multimedia, multivisual and multisound effects dramatization of composer-lyricist-guitarist-singer Roger Waters' undisputed finest moment in music. Waters hasn't released the rights to perform his 1979 opus for pay except under narrow circumstances, which means the only people who can come see this group of professional musicians and community theater actors do it are friends and friends of friends. People in the show have paid thousands of dollars for all the visuals, sound, costumes and sets out of their own pockets with no hope of recompense.

They do it because they love it.

"This started back in 1988," said Adam Obst, identified as MO on the program and longtime professional studio, theater and band percussionist in the Tampa Bay area. "(Guitarist) Chris (Lofback) and I kind of sat down and decided this is something we could do. We started experimenting with technicals available, which were very limited at the time. In 1992, technicals took a big leap, and we were able to start accumulating some gear that would let us do this," he said. "The first time we put it on the stage was 1998," with Obst portraying the vocal lead, Pink. A few dozen friends showed up to share the fun.

This year, there were four nearly full shows, all by word of mouth.

Lofback, a former reference librarian at Clearwater Public Library who now develops Web sites, is the totally awesome lead guitarist for the show. Some people who saw him were convinced he was faking his solos to a backstage track, sort of like Milli Vanilli lip-synching someone else's voice.

Not so. Those quasi-concertos were all Chris Lofback, who gives new meaning to the word "show-stopping," a virtuosity acknowledged by the roars of the crowd. He also did the orchestration and laid down some of the backup keyboard tracks in his studio.

They and guitarist Jon Fischer, percussionist Rich Lesniak, guitarist Earl Moretz and bassist Greg Adams anchor the show.

All the music in the show is either live on stage, even when the solid "brick" wall slowly assembled by the actors is completed, or was recorded by live musicians in Lofback's studio on mini-discs and dubbed into the show. Some of the sound effects are off Pink Floyd or Roger Waters' recordings, which is okay, since it's friends playing for friends. Just putting together those sequences took about five years.

The Wall was born when the British group Pink Floyd recorded the groundbreaking rock opera 21 years ago. Its best-known single was Another Brick in the Wall, with pouty-sounding English kids singing, "We don't need no education; we don't need no thought control . . . ."

It's an anti-war, anti-fascist, anti-censorship tome written by mid-30ish Brits born in the closing years of World War II, with all its horror. It's a bleak, dark concept album with psychedelic sound, long, loud, many-layered and suitelike, a mix of rock, blues and quasi-classical music, some say best enjoyed after ingesting mind-altering substances.

Stone sober, it's still terrific.

The MOCO Productions version at Richey Suncoast blends music from the album, the movie, the tour and a special performance done at the Berlin Wall in 1990. It tells a story of sorts, with actors doing the parts live, but the really sublime parts are Lofback and Fischer's solos and The Bleeding Heart Band.

The really fun parts come when The Hammer Guard, a cadre of 12 stone-faced actors in jet black jackboots and fatigues goose-step or storm around the theater with Caesar, a huge German shepherd (on a tight leash) who barks on cue and is always on the brink of bestowing sloppy wet kisses on handy faces and hands. With Caesar barking and the ominous-looking "thugs" dragging an actor into the aisle to beat him with (cardboard) clubs in the big "madness" scene, it's scarier than What Lies Beneath, The Perfect Storm and X-Men rolled into one.

Maybe little kids shouldn't go.

Besides, that makes more room for me and my friends.

But will the show go on?

Right now, Richey Suncoast isn't charging the musicians any rent to use the theater for the show. In fact, it costs the theater several hundred dollars for electricity, cleanup, wear-and-tear and revenue lost because the stage is taken for three weeks by The Wall. The cash-strapped theater can't keep this up, though Richey board president Charlie Skelton would love to do so. This show brings all kinds of fresh, new people to the theater for the first time, on stage and off, the very kinds of people Richey Suncoast needs to survive and prosper. The present dedicated supporters won't be around forever, if you get my drift.

Skelton is hoping that Waters will grant performance rights through his groups' non-profit theater. That way, Richey Suncoast could help underwrite the production costs and have themselves a surefire fundraiser. That could take years, though.

At the end of each show, Obst asked the audience to write to the theater to ask them to bring The Wall back next year. He didn't ask for money, fearing he would break copyright laws.

Still, if you saw the show and/or if you'd like to see it next year, there's no copyright law that would keep you from making a donation of, say, $10 or $20 a person, directly to Richey Suncoast Theatre to underwrite all the wonderful things they do there.

So if you do write and ask the theater to continue The Wall, slip a check made out to Richey Suncoast Theatre into the envelope with it. The address is Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey FL 34652.

Meanwhile, start smiling at the cast members.

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