Musician/activist creates JP rock opera

January 20, 2012
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(Photo courtesy Joe Driscoll) (from left) Kevin Silvia, Brian O’Connell, Colleen Kleya, Justin Kleya and Sam Ward form the band The Grass Gypsys, who will perform in O’Connell’s rock opera “Over The Line.”

Jamaica Plain musician and activist Brian O’Connell is prepping for a big undertaking: presenting a “radical social satire rock opera,” complete with over-sized puppet actors, spoken word and a 10-piece band with 8 singers, scheduled to open at Spontaneous Celebrations Feb. 4.

The story of “Over The Line” follows JP resident Sleepy Doormat, a liberal and well-educated young man. One day, after being confronted by a radical activist, Sleepy is a changed man following a dream filled with allegorical characters.

“It’s your basic personal transformation story, like ‘A Christmas Carol,’ minus the Christmas,” O’Connell said.

“Over The Line” has been “percolating” in O’Connell’s mind for over a decade, he said, but “most of the conceptualizing and writing on the show has been done over the last year,” he told the Gazette.

After working with former band Uncle Sammy on an unfinished rock opera in the late 1990s, O’Connell said, he got the idea “that I could really flesh out an entire concept piece with multiple tunes, the kind of thing that would fill up an album.”

It’s been a while since O’Connell presented his solo work, “so I really wanted to put some stuff out there in a big way and make it political and socially relevant,” he said. “Over The Line” is his “humble artistic offering to the confluence of resistance against the status quo which is taking place right now in our society,” he added.

After one gets involved in organizing, protesting and petitioning, O’Connell said, “The inevitable question arises…What are my skills and how can I apply them best? I greatly enjoy composing, playing, and putting a big event together. I also have a great desire to contribute to many of the various movements for a better, more sane world. Putting my two loves together in this way in the form of composing and performing ‘Over The Line’ just seemed to come naturally.”

Much of the play is based on his own experiences, O’Connell said, including parts of dreams.

O’Connell’s main band, The Grass Gypsys, forms the core of performers, but it will be assisted by Kara-Lynn Petrucci and Kat Arrants Petrucci from the JP band Brief Awakening, O’Connell said. His wife, Jenna O’Connell, will also perform, as will Dave Scandurra, Joel Ockenheim and Brian O’Connell himself.

The choice of venue was just as important to the piece as the music.

“Spontaneous Celebrations is one of the best things in JP, the facilities are great, their mission right on, and their cultural and arts programs are vital to JP,” O’Connel said.

All proceeds from the performances will be donated back to Spontaneous.

“Over The Line” will be performed at Spontaneous Celebrations, 45 Danforth St., on Sat., Feb. 4, at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Admission is $10.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Joel Ockenheim’s name.

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