Entertainment

Original rock opera debuts at Black Box Theatre, June 6-7

LYNN – Lynn musician Brian Maes and Saugus playwright George Simpson debut their original rock opera, The Devil and Billy Shake, at the Neal Rantoul Black Box Theatre in Lynn with two performances, June 6-7, in conjunction with Arts After Hours.Maes, a Berklee graduate and well-known front-man for his Brian Maes Band, is a former member of RTZ, Ernie and the Automatics and Peter Wolf?s House Party Five. Maes wrote the score for the rock opera and some of the lyrics for the script Simpson had been working on for five years.Simpson?s guitar instructor and Maes? bandmate Kook Lawry introduced the two several years ago during an open-mic night at O?Brien?s Pub in Lynn, and though Maes at the time was working with Ernie and the Automatics on tour with Deep Purple, Maes was intrigued by the first 100 pages of the rock opera Simpson gave him a few weeks later and agreed to work with Simpson to produce The Devil and Billy Shake.In the story, Billy Shake builds such a following around the world that The Devil, known in the story as Dr. Spark, is counted among them. Shake is lured to Hell to perform hard-edged numbers for Dr. Spark and his legions, but at the same time he fights to retain his belief in God, country and pursuit of love.Simpson, who manages a rental accessory and cleaning company by day, is a local musician who has been writing poetry, mostly focused on love, the human condition and the battle between good vs. evil, since his teen years.?When I was young what I really wanted to be is the biggest rock star in the world,” said Simpson, a graduate of Western Oklahoma State College who served in the U.S. Air Force, in an interview last fall with The Item. His character, Billy Shake, is precisely that. And yes, the name Billy Shake is a take on The Bard.?I?ve always been into creative writing and writing short stories … When I was younger this girl told me, ?You write better than William Shakespeare.? That?s how I came up with the name Billy Shake,” Simpson said.The CD, released last Nov. 25 with a reception at O?Brien?s, features 30 tracks with Lawry on lead guitar, Tim Archibald on bass, “Old” Tony DePietro on drums, Danny McCarthy on acoustic guitar, Maes on keys, percussion and vocals (Billy Shake), Simpson on vocals (Dr. Spark); MaryBeth Maes on vocals (Princess Shrill); and Elle Callo and Terri O?Soro on backing vocals.Maes and Simpson met with some Broadway titans who offered positive feedback and advised the pair to stage the show locally to work out kinks.That?s where Corey Jackson, cofounder and president of Arts After Hours, entered the picture. Maes said that last year when his band was packing up from a gig in Central Square, he met Jackson and mentioned the rock opera.?He stopped in his tracks and said, ?Well, I would really like to learn a lot more about that,” Maes said.Arts After Hours has revived local live theatre over the past five years and has packed the Black Box Theatre with its productions.Jackson said in an email to The Item on Wednesday, “Developing and producing original music and theater is a key component of how we support the artist community in Greater Lynn. George Simpson and Brian Maes have an incredible piece with great potential and we?re excited to see how this staged concert drives it forward in its development.”Maes said the opportunity was also available to debut the show at Lynn Auditorium, but that the smaller, intimate Black Box Theatre is perfect for the show?s debut.Maes said rehearsals for the show are going great, though he admitted acting and singing in character, as Billy Shake, is much different than performing with the band.?It?s kind of a challenge because I?ve never done this before,” Maes said of acting. “But I think the last two years with Ernie and the Automatics forced me to get out there as a lead singer and out from behind the keyboard. That helped pave the way for this.”Maes compared Simpson?s vocals, in the role of the devil (Dr. Spark), to those of Lou Reed or Dav

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