In February, Jill Marlene was driving to San Francisco when her son, Gabriel Hiiton, and his girlfriend, Kaitlin Oki, insisted that she pop The Decemberists’ “Hazards of Love” album into the CD player.
“I’m listening to this, and I was hooked after the first song,” she said. “I was crying by the end of it. I was just in tears, and I said, ‘I have to stage this.’ They (Hiiton and Oki) looked at each other and they smiled because, later on, they told me that they’d planned it. They knew that if I heard it in its entirety, I would have to stage it.”
Marlene, who has been involved in theater and opera for years, has produced a number of stage shows in Reno, and she said turning “Hazards of Love” into a fully produced rock opera was right up her alley. So, she gathered a number of local musicians, including her son and Oki, and started working on the concept. Her production runs Nov. 12, 13, 18,19 and 21 at the Great Escape.
The Decemberists, an experimental folk-rock band, released “Hazards of Love” in 2009, and it seemed a natural fit for the stage because the songs tie together to tell the story of a woman, Margaret, who falls in love with a shape-shifting forest creature named William. The dramatic arc involves not only their romance but problems the lovers face with the creature’s jealous mother and another evil being.
Marlene chose to present the story by having dancers act out the action while a live band plays and sings the songs from the album. Both the dancers and eight-piece band will be visible to the audience.
“What this is,” she said, “is really performance art with a rock ‘n’ roll kind of foundation.
Marlene is serving as the director and producer as well as singing the part of William’s mother. In all, she said about 20 people are involved in the production. Her cast includes a number of well-known local musicians, including Tom Gordon on drums and Steve Widmer on guitar.
“I’m so lucky,” Marlene said. “I have such gratitude for these people. All of them. Every single one of them is amazing.”
Marlene said the group rehearsed throughout the summer and that it has been hitting it hard since early August. If the show is profitable, she said, everyone will get a stipend, and she also plans to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Reno High School orchestra.
“Everybody’s going to get a little bit,” she said. “I just don’t believe in not compensating people when you can, and I’ve made OK money from the past shows that I’ve done.”
If you want to go
The “Hazards of Love” rock opera by producer-director Jill Marlene is performed at the Great Escape, 1575 S. Virginia St., in the Sports West complex. Tickets are $10, available in advance at Sports West Athletic Club, the Melting Pot World Emporium, Prism Magic and by phone at 775-225-4421.
Dates: Nov. 12, 13, 18, and 19 at 8 p.m. (doors at 7) and Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. Click here for a review.