Firehouse Theatre’s latest production of “Preludes” is a trippy musical fantasia that takes viewers on a journey through 19th Century Russian history to dive deep into the music and mind of suffering Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, and the three-year writer’s block, hypnotherapy, and psychological collapse that befalls him after his disaster performance of his debut symphony in 1897.
Playwright and musician Dave Malloy, creator of Broadway hit “Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812,” has crafted an artistic piece that signifies the musical geniuses of the composer. The musical takes place in Moscow in 1900 in the hypnotized mind of Rachmaninoff, who is experiencing “creative silence” or writer’s block. It is often normal for writers to go through total silence of creative thinking when writing a piece; however, in Malloy’s musical fantasy “Preludes”, the aforementioned writer is able to turn around his years of artistic silence into something great.
“We’re exploring a lot about taking a step forward and on a very basic level of getting out of bed and breaking free of the things that confines and constrains us.” Firehouse Theatre Director Billy Christopher Maupin said of the musical.
In the musical, Rachmaninoff, played by Travis West, is the concert pianist and simultaneously, the musical incorporates a modern-day “RACH”, played by PJ Freebourn, who is paralyzed by writer’s block and constantly wallows in his own self-pity.
“Rach the modern day version, is the central speaking character of the play and the person whose story we’re following,” Maupin said.
Malloy’s way of driving emotion into this piece really makes people empathetic towards his work. His music and lyrics convey authenticity to the characters, situations, and struggles that they find themselves in.
Rounding out the cast is Natalya, played by Isabella Stansbury, who portrays Sergei’s wife, and hypnotherapist Nikolai Dhal, who Sergei visits to recount his terrible writer’s block and sleepless nights at the request of Natalya. Dhal, who was originally written in Malloy’s musical as a man, appears in Firehouse’s Theatre as a woman, played by Georgia Rogers Farmer. Adding to the stellar lineup of actors and actresses is Jody Ashworth, playing famous Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin, and RACH’s best friend along with actor Levi Merovich, who takes on several roles in “Preludes” including Rachmaninoff’s favorite composer influences Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Alexander Glazunov, and his main role as “The Master. ”
Meerovich, said his character “The Master” sort of exists “out of time.” According to him, he was able to tap into his own personal creativity to make that character come alive and had free reign artistically to develop him and make the part his own.
“It’s a very interesting part because it’s so vague that you can pretty much do whatever you want,” Meerovich said. “And I make him very much me.” Because I have five other characters who are huge, other varying personalities, but this guy gets to just being me, which is nice.”
Maupin described the musical as “very strange, unconventional and gorgeous. It’s very eclectic in the styles and a lot of the music composed by Rachmaninoff, to which Malloy has added a set melodies and lyrics. In the musical, the audience will experience a menagerie of genres from klezmer to punk rock to Russian folk songs and classical music along with some Indian-inspired music. “Preludes” is orchestrated by a grand piano and two synthesizers despite a bit of electronic music that comes into play. The second synthesizer is played by music director Susan Braden.
“It’s also a little fun and different for me,” said Braden. “This is an incredible piece with a bunch of incredibly talented people here from Richmond that’s gonna knock everybody’s socks off. And it’s strange and wonderful.”
Maupin hopes the audience leaves feeling “empowered, feeling and learning to, to move past things.”
Firehouse Theatre’s “Preludes” kicks off tomorrow, May 23, and will run through June 10. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.