Theatre Review: A fulfilling ‘Spectre’ of rock ‘til you drop
BY PAUL WILLISTEIN
No, we’re not talking about what you might find in the local antiques store, at a yard sale or in grandma’s attic.
We’re talking about these old rockers: Mick Jagger, 80, and Keith Richards, 79, of the Rolling Stones; Paul McCarthy, 81, of the Beatles, and Peter Townshend, 78, and Roger Daltrey, 79, of The Who, the latter who famously sang. “I hope I die before I get old” in “My Generation,” charting at No. 2 in the United Kingdom in 1965.
Longevity, somewhat of a tradition in rock, with Chuck Berry, who died at 90 in 2017, performing when he was 87, is especially so in rhythm and blues and the blues. B.B. King, who died at 89 in 2015, performed when he was 88. Buddy Guy, 87, is still going strong. He’s doing a concert Oct. 14, Penn’s Peak, Jim Thorpe.
In all genres of music, singers, songwriters and musicians never seem to want to give up the ghost. Pop-jazz singer Tony Bennett, who died at 96 on July 21, 2023, performed his last concerts in 2021. Jazz great Duke Ellington tickled the ivories in concert at 85 until he died in 1974. In classical music, violinist Yehudi Menuhin made his last recording soon before he died at 82 in 1999.
In the music business, and especially rock music, if you survive the gritty club circuit on your way up, grueling stadium concert tours when on top, the alcohol, the drugs, the groupies, the noose and news of fame, Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes and other bad investment advice, you might have made it to old age.
That’s the stage in life, and the life on stage, where we meet Craig “Spec” Czury (Mike Daniels), semi-retired lead singer for The Crypt, a death-metal rock band, in “The Spector of Death,” a comedy in its Lehigh Valley premiere in Allentown.
Spec is lounging about in his robe when the housekeeper, Cassie Spencer (Donna White), shows up to clean up the beer bottle-strewn living room of his house.
Emerging is a guest, Delilah Jacobs (Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson), who has to keep reminding Spec of her first name.
A knock on the door and erstwhile manager Rory MacManus (Jerry Brucker) roars in, promoting an offer for The Crypt to reunite for a concert at DeathCon, which is not a convention of funeral directors, but rather a death-metal music festival.
Spec, lead singer of The Crypt, would get the band back together, which had a No. 10 hit in 1998, “We Are Gonna Rock You To Death,” with drummer Joey “Styyx” Panuchio (Micah Henning) and bass player Roger Hanrahan (Matt Redline). The only problem is: One of the band members is dead.
Delilah recommends a nephew, Austin Smith (Peter McKeon), who turns out to be a good lead guitar player.
A surprise for Spec is the appearance of apparent long-lost daughter, Ricki Roberts (Alana Weirbach), and her mother, Pam Roberts (Dawn Daignault).
Spec is taken aback, so much so he’s hospitalized with a heart attack and is unable to perform. Fortunately, The Crypt wears masks (and this was pre-Covid) akin to the monster makeup of the rock band, Kiss. Delilah dons a mask, steps up to the lead microphone and The Crypt is open again for business.
Bruce Brown plays three roles in the show.
“The Spector of Death,” written by Charlie Barnett, an Easton native who lives in Washington, D.C., is directed by Rody Gilkeson, and produced by Crowded Kitchen Players.
Barnett, a jazz musician, knows his way around the music business, whatever the genre. Barnett writes wryly, glibly and humorously about the foibles of fame and its often corrosive effect on the psyche. Barnett’s often laugh-out-loud funny play is a bit of a cautionary tale, and not only for aspiring, or expiring, old rockers.
Rody Gilkeson, area musician-singer and thespian, also knows the spotlight’s glare and its potentially blinding effects. Gilkeson directs with a confident, naturalistic and gentle sense, letting the actors create their roles casually and convincingly. Gilkeson did the set design. Nora Oswald did The Crypt band mask designs.
Especially believable is Mike Daniels in the lead role as Craig “Spec” Czury. Daniels inculcates the insouciance that one associates with a rock star. Symbolic of the very masks that his rock band, The Crypt, wears, Spec hides his emotions deep within. Daniels successfully modulates the transition from carefree to caring when personal crisis cracks him open like heart surgery.
Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson brings Delilah Jacobs to life as more than a good-time girl, nuancing the role with a jazzy, breezy and intelligent performance.
Alana Weirbach portrays a delightfully refreshing portrayal of daughter, Ricki Roberts.
Jerry Brucker is hilarious as Rory MacManus, manager of The Crypt, who can even put a positive spin on catastrophe.
Micah Henning as Joey “Styyx” Panuchio, has an amusing faux British accent.
And that’s the thing with “The Spector of Death.” As with the movie “This is Spinal Tap” (1984), it’s all about friend or faux.
“The Spectre of Death,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29, 30; 2 p.m. Oct. 1, Crowded Kitchen Players at Between The Lines Studio Theatre, 725 N. 15th St., Allentown. Tickets: box office; 610-704-6974, www.ckplayers.com