Ochre House Theater's original productions often focus on groundbreaking live music performed by notable local musicians. It's January production of Dr. Bobaganush and His Wonderful World Of The Bizarre and Macabre tells the story of an ancient arts wielding mystic traveling with his show in Nazi-era Europe. The musical delves into the subject of fascism with biting satire as the title character finds himself helping people threatened by the rise of the Third Reich.
Barnes is eager for the opportunity to dig into Dr. Bobaganush's fascist themes at the end of what for many is a painful election year. "The theater exists to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” he says. "We got our work cut out for us, huh. Bad politics often makes for great art, I’m told. I hope so.”
The production features Ochre House veterans Trey Pendergrass and Bobby Fajardo, along with Gregg Prickett of Unconscious Collective and They Say The Wind Made Them Crazy; brothers Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez of Yells at Eels; and Jeffrey Barnes of Brave Combo.
Dr. Bobaganush is written and directed by Ochre House artistic director/founder Matthew Posey, who will also return to star after a hiatus resulting from his acting work on the film Magnificent 7 and AMC's TV series The Son. Posey selected Earl Norman to lead the cast of multi-instrumentalists as musical director. Norman recently returned from New York after being the librarian to revered Vince Giordano, American saxophonist and leader of the Nighthawks Orchestra.
An eclectic performer and musician in his own right, Norman conducts the musicians as if they were collectively a lead character in the play. “[The musical director] is the opposite of authoritarian,” Barnes says, adding that his role is to be a creative facilitator who emboldens the musicians to grow alongside the storyline.
The musicians Norman has gathered are relishing in the challenge of translating their work from the club to the stage. “I like that the music helps the storyline, rather than existing for itself,” Jeffrey Barnes says. “Because of this, the musical form is often subjugated to the narrative flow, like Carl W. Stalling’s music for Warner Bros. cartoons.”
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This will be Barnes' first time to grace the Ochre House stage; he was brought in thanks to his past experience working with Norman. Barnes is best known for his 32 years playing with the Grammy-winning Denton polka band Brave Combo, but in the '80s he was in a band with Norman called United Snakes that performed a combination of poetry and musical improv.
Barnes has mastered an array of musical instruments since he picked up piano at the age of 10. Now 65, he can also play clarinet, harmonica and saxophone. He says performing at Ochre House will mark a drastic change from the club settings he's used to, where distractions, rowdy audiences and plentiful alcohol are common contributing factors to his performance.
“I’m depended upon to advance the plot for an audience that also isn’t drinking or trying to pick each other up like in a club,” he says. “They are paying attention.”
See Dr. Bobaganush at Ochre House Theater, 825 Exposition Ave., from Jan. 28 to Feb. 18. Tickets are $17 at ochrehousetheater.org.