Catch some local music legends in Greendale

Given the amount of love that we here at the Dallas Observer tossed the Dallas Theater Center's way over its The Who's Tommy—a cover story previewing the show ("Enter Stage Right," August 28), a glowing review of the show ("Who Knew," September 4) and multiple blog posts under both our news-oriented Unfair Park and our music-centric DC-9 at Night banners—I'd like to think that the show attracted a substantial audience to its performances.

More specifically, given the show's production values and its breakout performance from Denton's Oso Closo as the in-house, onstage stand-ins for Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, I'd like to think that it was able to attract a sizable non-theatergoing crowd to its audience and an impressive contingent from the local concert-attending set.

But if my completely and utterly unscientific survey of that local music set—a process that consisted mainly of gushing about the production to various listeners at various shows over the course of the last month and gauging the listener's interest—is any indication, there wasn't exactly a stampede of local music fans lining up to take in the show.

More often than not, the responses I received showed mild interest, but ultimately tended toward apathetic: "Yeah, I might check that out, maybe," seemed the prevailing return volley to my meatball serve.

Oh, well. Their loss.

Tommy was an impressive marriage of two local arts scenes—music and theater—and it offered the fans of one the perfect gateway into the realm of the other. And while I'm sure the performance did wonders for Oso Closo's own name recognition outside of the tight-knit circle of Denton's music community, I doubt it did much in terms of making DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty a household name in the rock clubs of Deep Ellum, Lower Greenville and Exposition Park.

And any window for such cross-promotion of arts scenes was abruptly shut on Sunday as the show came to the end of its monthlong run.

Well, at least with Tommy.

At Deep Ellum's Undermain Theatre, a similar marriage of local theater and local music is ongoing. On Saturday night, the 25-year-old Undermain company's third and latest run of its rock opera interpretation of Neil Young's 2003 concept album, Greendale, comes to a close.

Before I get ahead of myself: This isn't to say that Neil Young's Greendale is comparable to Tommy. Let's get this out of the way right now: It ain't. Totally different ballpark.

DTC repackaged a well-known opera well-rooted in pop culture history; Undermain got exclusive first rights (quite an impressive feat, actually) to adapt, basically from scratch, a head-scratcher of an album that only Rolling Stone seemed to appreciate upon release.

Tommy benefitted greatly from its lavish stage design; Undermain is forced to make do with its bare bones basement space.

DTC has the budget to bring in the area's top talents; Greendale relies heavily upon Undermain's regular cast members (Undermain executive producer Bruce DuBose stars in the production's most prominent role and is also credited with adapting the material for the stage).

And where Tommy scored major points for its precise, flashy, almost music video-like choreography, Greendale's hokey shuffles and background pantomimes are sloppy and distracting.

The singing, though, (once you get past Young's corny, über-literal lyrics) isn't all that bad. DuBose doesn't necessarily shine as main character Earl, but he does have a griminess to his voice that comes close to Young's at points. Ian Sinclair's Jed has an altogether different pitch than Young's, but it has a youthful honesty about it that can be charming. Stefanie Tovar's newscaster role (the better of two she plays) doesn't even bother evoking Young's voice (thank God), yet her eager and earnest vocal energy is quite endearing. And then there's a true standout: Richard Rollin actually looks the part of an older Neil Young, and his aged voice might as well be Young's, plus about 10 years or so.

Never mind the actual story—Undermain's production does no better job of telling Young's scatterbrained tale about three generations of a rural Californian family than the actual album does (which is to say, basically, that there's still no satisfaction in attempting to understand it)—but there is most definitely a surefire way to truly enjoy this show. And in her otherwise maybe-a-bit-too-scathing review of the show's initial run back in April (between that one and this one, the production was taken to New York City for a one-week stint at SoHo's Ohio Theatre), Observer theater critic Elaine Liner did make allusion to it: Toward the back of the stage floor, the trio of men presenting the live backing music are so good that they actually make Neil Young and longtime collaborators Crazy Horse's material listenable.

The fact that this crew, dubbed for its Greendale run as The Imitators, shines is no shock. The Imitators' three members—Kenny Withrow, Alan Emert and Paul Semrad—are longtime veterans of the Deep Ellum scene. So much so that, just maybe, were there a Deep Ellum Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, each might be first-ballot inductees. Withrow's a founding member of and the lead guitarist for the New Bohemians; Emert's won two Grammys for his work with Brave Combo, though he cut his teeth performing with MC 900 Ft. Jesus, Ten Hands and others; Semrad manned the bass for seminal Deep Ellum rock outfit Course of Empire. They're as formidable a trio as the region could offer in such a role.

Nevertheless, only 15 or so people were in attendance as these three flawlessly toiled away in the background of last Wednesday night's Greendale performance...and that didn't really surprise so much as disappoint.

No, Greendale might not be Tommy, but it still offers local music die-hards the chance to see their heroes partake in an experimental foray into the local theater scene. So what if the $15 to $25 tickets are a little bit more expensive than a $5 at the Double Wide; it's still a pretty cost-effective way to take in a risk-taking presentation from some of the area's finest talents, especially considering how unlikely it is to catch a Course of Empire reunion or New Bohemians performance around town in the near future.

Even in this bailout economy, that's a deal worth taking.

Especially now that you missed out on your shot to see Tommy.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman