Only a few days left until one of the biggest and most ambitious events in the world of progressive music this year — or maybe even this decade, for that matter — will take place at Rotterdam, Netherlands. A full-scale theatrical performance of one of the most famous concept rock-operas writted and recorded in the new millenium, Ayreon’s The Human Equation, will be staged at Nieuwe Luxor Theater, stretching over the next weekend from 18th to 20th of September, and thousands of fans from all over the world will be flocking to the city to see this unique show with their own eyes.
The Human Equation is a story about a man suffering a comatose condition after being directly involved in a car accident, the details of a situation unclear. A man is aided by his best friend and wife, who are both visiting him in a hospital regularly and trying to bring him out of his unconscious state, while at the same time, in his very mind he’s being confronted by various emotions, each one with their different agenda, trying to make him remember his past, to impose their will on his further actions, or to show him a way to fight the current situation and wake up. Like most of Ayreon rock operas, the album features a considerable number of singers and instrumentalists, which makes it neatly tailored for such adaptation.
Originally, The Theater Equation crew was planning on a simple local performance, which erupted into a massive, huge production when the potential audience along with the original cast musicians showed enormous interest in the idea. Three unique, once-in-a-lifetime shows were scheduled then, one day for each show, but when the tickets for all three gigs were not-so-unexpectedly sold out in mere minutes, the fourth official show was added, taking place at the Saturday afternoon. The adaptation will include the specially designed costumes for each role, some additional roles and extra parts to enhance the experience, more than half of original cast of vocalists, complemented by people from other Ayreon’s albums in cases when some musicians were unavailable to perform.
The original singers cast features James LaBrie representing a protagonist named Me, Marcela Bovio as Wife, Magnus Ekwall as Pride, Heather Findlay as Love, Devon Graves as Agony, Eric Clayton as Reason, Irene Jansen as Passion. They’re joined by Anneke van Giersbergen as Fear (originally played as Mikael Akerfeldt on the album), Jermain van der Bogt (Wudstik) as Best Friend (Arjen Lucassen sang the role) and Mike Mills as a curious amalgamation of Rage and Father (initially played by Devin Townsend and Mike Baker, respectively), and until the actual show airs, we can only guess what kind of surprises we’re in regarding this role. Aside from the same artist for Rage and Father characters, the gender change of Fear is another interesting twist — I have no doubt Anneke can pull off the menacing, cold approach Mikael projects in his performance on The Human Equation; and there’s information the growls will be performed by some other artist, so I’m not worried. There are also some additional characters, namely Mother, Nurse and Doctor, and I guess we’re in for some surprises here.
The instrumental cast includes a long-term Ayreon veteran Ed Warby on drums, Johan van Stratum on bass, Marcel Coenen and Freek Gielen on guitars, Erik van Ittersum and Ruben Wijga on keyboards, and for some trademark, fairly usual instruments for Ayreon we have Jeroen Goossens on flutes and other woodwinds, Ben Mathot on violin and Maaike Peterse on cello. I’m especially looking for Jeroen playing didgeroo and Heather Findlay on tambourines (or whatever this thing she’s playing on The Human Equation Documentary DVD is). Anyway, to add the depth to singers performance and for backing vocals there is an Epic Rock Choir, 19 people gathered specifically for these four shows. In case any of the appointed singers can’t make the show, there is a stand-in musician for each of them, ready to pick up the vocal duties. They were performing at the rehearsal show at 6th of September, a sort of preview, a test before the huge show everyone’s waiting for.
Of course, such an adaptation requires a hard work from all the crew, and the people behind the scenes are the ones who we should mostly thank for such a unique opportunity for us to witness an Ayreon album going live, so it would be totally impolite to omit them in this preview. Yvette Boertje is mentioned as Artistic Leader on the official site, and she’s the one who’s responsible for the whole thing happening, Leon Dona is a Stage Manager, Pieter Kop and Evelyn van ‘t Hof are Sound and Light Engineers respectively, another Ayreon veteran Joost van den Broek has a Music Director post, Laura ten Hoedt and Devon Graves are handling the vocal training, Lida van Straaten is behind all the make-up preparations, and Petra Jochems is in charge of the costumes part. And of course, there’s Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who, while not performing on stage himself, serves as advisor to the crew about every single small thing related to his masterpiece of an album.
With all this cast and crew, I don’t think there is any question about the fact this show is going to be magnificent. The only question standing is about the DVD-recording. When asked this very question on Facebook few months ago, Arjen himself said they’re looking into the possibilities and willing to record it, but there was no confirmation, so the possible further existence of DVD remains uncertain.
Which means that folks unable to attend this seemingly spectacular show should probably keep their fingers crossed for this DVD, and to the rest of readers who are able to make it to Rotterdam this September weekend — I hope you’ll enjoy every bit of the performance, and I guess we’ll see you there!