The Theater Experience

September 19th, 2015

Some things are worth waiting for. October 26th, 2014, 05:27 AM I bought a ticket to a concert to be held nearly a full year later. It felt awkward to buy a concert ticket nearly a year in advance, but this, this was nothing but a no-brainer. I had to be there. And what’s a year if you’ve been secretly wishing for this to happen for a full decade?
In 2004 musical mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen released his sixth Ayreon studio album. A host of musicians brought together for a stunning 2 disc concept album The Human Equation. Just like the previous 5 album released under the Ayreon bandname, the entire album tells a story, and each song can be compared to a chapter in a book. Each song broadens and deepens the experience.
While listening, it remains essential to read along in the CD booklet to keep track of everything happening, and even then it’s a wild a wild and intense rollercoaster you want to ride again as soon as you’ve recovered from the previous ride. And during that second, third, fourth ride you’ll discover even more layers and depths in the brilliant storylines.
Sadly, the only way this music could be enjoyed was by playing the studio albums. The Ayreon website hosts an FAQ, and one of the most freqently asked questions is whether the music will ever be performed live on stage. The answer given on the website to that is negative. Wikipedia, too, clearly states that “Due to its particular nature, Ayreon was never played live” – but to every rule there’s an exception, and that one exception happens to happen this very weekend.
Though, personally, I still am particularly fond of the very first Ayreon album “The final experiment” and always hoped it would be made into a movie. Anime, obviously, since to me it has a rather distinct Ghibli‘esque aura surrounding it. Partially due to the awkward mixture of fantasy and science fiction found in “The Final Experiment”. Which, also, explains why “The Human Equation” is the story fit to be turned into a stage performance. Rather than in a world occupied by magicians and spaceships, it takes place in a world where people commute from home to their busy jobs by cars, and where people do and experience things we all can relate to. More than a decade after the release of “The Human Equation” it’s performed as a stage play under the name “The Theater Equation” – One weekend only, one venue only.

September 18th, 2015. The long wait is rewarded. A train ride takes me to Rotterdam Centraal, from where I walk toward the Erasmusbrug – which brings me to the opposite side of the river, where the Nieuwe Luxor Theater is located, and therein restaurant Leipzig, where I’ll enjoy a three course meal prior to the concert.
The concert itself is everything one could expect and more. The stage is set with a car wreck, hospital bed and other props needed to play out the entire rock opera as if it were a Broadway musical – and it works. The music and acting complement each other, and rather than having to read, listen and digest at the same time to keep up with the storyline, when played out the story literally unfolds before your own eyes in an even more incisive way than when listening to the album alone. As if you’re actually witnessing it.

The one time I got slightly distracted was during the song “Loser” – because, for me, there’s an interesting anecdote attached to that song.
In June 2004, a mere month after The Human Equation was released, I visited the Arrow Rock Festival. Shortly before Alice Cooper would start his performance, a tall, long haired figre clearly recognized as Arjen Lucassen stood amidst the crowd, and chanted parts of the lyrics of “Loser” – obviously because the original lead vocalist on that song, the late Mike Baker, deliberately tried to sound like Alice Cooper, because that tone of voice fit the role of “father” in The Human Equation so well. Obviously, I was rather pleased that this happened within earshot, and that it made sense to me. For some reason I was under the impression only a fraction (if any) of the other people in front of the tented stage were aware who this tall long haired guy in their midst was, and why he kept shouting the word “loser” while awaiting Alice Cooper to hit the stage.

Aside from that one moment my mind wandered off to an amusing memory from times past, the first half was a delight to gaze upon – though second balcony, way up, was possibly not the best place to see it from. The supporting visuals projected on the backdrop were largely invisible, and at times it was difficult to see which character was singing and what their part in the story was. I came to regret not listening to the album a couple of times over the past year, or during the trainride to Rotterdam.

During intermission, it’s raining dramatically outside. The many lights surrounding the modern Rotterdam architecture illuminate the big droplets of rain, creating an interesting contrast of light and shadow outside. Inside, intermission is spent cozy and convenient with some snacks and a drink, pre-ordered and pre-paid prior to the show. A concept worthy to be copied by others. It’s a delight not having to cope with queues during intermission, but truly enjoy it as a relaxing and refresing break.

Second half is the part in which all the mystery unravels. The music sounds as good performed live as it does on the album, and the story carries on up to the point where it becomes clear why and how the accident could occur, and why the wife and best friend kept visiting the hospital for three weeks straight. Everything unravels. The hospital scenes ends – and then there’s that twist. The same twist the album ends with, but on stage there’s an extra twisted twist. Twisted.

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