The Baltimore Rock Opera Society brings epic pastiche and thick riffs to Philly

Baltimore Rock Opera. (courtesy photo)

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society is confused about cheese steaks.

“I’ve never had a cheese steak before so I’m really in the dark about this,” says Jared Margulies, co-founder and Outreach and Development Director for the Baltimore-based theater company.

He’s referring, of course, to the bizarre teaser video the group concocted, in which they try—and sort of succeed—to combine a cheese steak and pizza into one delicious monstrosity.

“We wanted to express that we are really excited to come to Philly,” says Margulies of the video. “And we wanted to understand our future audience. So we were thinking about Philadelphia, and total Philly clichés. Apparently you guys like cheese steaks there. We really like pizza here. So we were thinking: how could you combine the two?” He pauses. “We heard you guys like to put cheese wiz on your cheese steaks too, so we tried to incorporate that, but it got really gross.”

He laughs.

This spring, for the first time ever, his company will tour to Philadelphia, bringing their original rock opera, Gründlehämmer, to NoLib’s Ruba Lounge on April 4 through 6.

It’s one in a long series of firsts for the DIY group, who have spent the past seven years forging their own path, creating unique rock operas that appeal to a wide spectrum of rock and theater fans.

Formed in 2007 by a bunch of college buddies obsessed with “spectacle and epic” (Margulies’ words), the Baltimore Rock Opera Society came together serendipitously as its members looked for a fun, post-college escape. “We knew we wanted to do something, but we didn’t know what,” says Margulies.

Many of the members had backgrounds in rock’n roll, and eventually, after many late-night hang sessions, they stumbled on the idea of doing a rock opera. “A couple of us applied for a small community arts grant, for $500,” Margulies continues. “And we really didn’t think we had a shot at getting it, because we were basically a bunch of kids. But then we got it… and at the time $500 seemed like so much money. So we were like ‘I guess we have to do it.’” He laughs.

Since then, the group’s successfully staged five original rock operas, and earned a reputation in hometown Baltimore for unique, innovative performances, and unstoppable momentum. An all-volunteer company, with 60 to 120 people working on a performance at any time, Margulies describes the BROS as “DIY in the sense that we don’t always know how to do something, but we know we want to do it. So we figure it out and learn how to do it ourselves.”

So when it came time to pick a show to take on tour, they knew to look no further than Gründlehämmer, the first show ever penned back in 2009—the as perfect introduction to what the BROS are all about.

Of course, preparing the show for the road required significant retooling.

“The original Gründlehämmer was a show that was thrown together using only creative madness and energy from a ragtag group of artists with a shared vision of a rock’n roll utopia,” says Aran Keating, BROS Artistic Director and director of both Gründlehämmer productions. “This show is exactly the same feeling but with tighter production, a trimmed down script, and more epic moments per minute. We have learned so much about our craft since we first formed the BROS and it enabled us to pack more show into a smaller touring production.”

Margulies agrees. “In 2009 we didn’t know what we were doing,” he says. “We knew we wanted to match the feel of opera in all its splendor, and that was reflected in all aspects of the show, including the original running time, which was pushing 4½ hours. Now it’s 2½ hours with intermission, which is much more reasonable.” 

Tickets for the original show were just $5—barely enough to cover costs. For the current production, they’ve raised prices to $20, to more accurately reflect the cost of design and touring. “It’s actually more than we’ve ever charged before,” says Margulies. “We pride ourselves on trying to keep it accessible.”

As for the show itself, Margulies calls it “Wagnerian inspired,” and adds that it “pulls from every epic pastiche you can think of shoved into one show.” There’s a good king and an evil king; there’s an evil monster; there’s a love story. And there are plenty of epic guitar battles. “In the world of Brotopia, where the show is set, music makes everything happen,” Margulies continues. “So farmers till the fields by playing beautiful three-part harmonies, and slaying a dragon is done with thick riffs.”

The decision to bring the show to Philly was half logistical (Philly being nearby) and half due to the aforementioned excitement about the city, and our cheese steaks.

“Bringing the BROS’ unique brand of over-the-top, insane, epic rock theater to an audience that is completely unaware and unfamiliar with it is what we do,” says John DeCampos, band leader and the one responsible for many of the slaying riffs. “I can say with confidence that no one does what the BROS does.”

Margulies is in agreement. “We like to melt faces so people should be prepared to have their faces melted,” he says. “This show is a party. We want people to come and have fun and be totally unprepared for the spectacle.”

Sounds like a great time to us.

Gründlehämmer runs April 4–6 at Ruba Lounge, 416 Green St. Tickets are $20 and available here.