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Rock lives at Renton Civic Theater

Long Live Rock ...  Tribute to an Era comes to the Renton Civic Theater this Saturday.  - Submitted photo
Long Live Rock ... Tribute to an Era comes to the Renton Civic Theater this Saturday.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Long Live Rock is at Renton Civic Theater Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $26. For tickets, call the box office at 425-226-5529. For more information about Long Live Rock, including a set list, visit www.lepoproductions.com

Michael Opel hatched the idea for Long Live Rock in March 1978, while watching 48 hours of live music at California Jam 2. The jam featured one to two hour sets from Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, Dave Mason, Ted Nugent, Rubicon and Santana.

A slimmed-down California Jam 2 would be great, Opel thought. Headliner acts playing mini-concerts. Or, more feasibly, local musicians playing famous tunes by the headliners.

That idea bounced around Opel’s head for years. Through a ravaging drug and alcohol addiction, rehab and a couple heart attacks.

“Six and a half years ago I was a drunk who couldn’t pay his bills,” Opel says. “I thought my heart attacks were a sign that I should give up.”

But he didn’t give up. He decided to take his life back and do something meaningful. He decided to create Long Live Rock. In creating the show, Opel drew on his past work as an event coordinator in Reno and a building manager at a Bellingham community theater.

But just as Opel was about to start recruiting for Long Live Rock, his dad’s bladder cancer grew worse. Opel moved south to care for his dad and his mom, a stroke patient. His dad died in February.

It wasn’t until June that Opel, 51, of Puyallup held auditions for Long Live Rock. Seventeen singers tried out for five spots. The headliners? Pat Benatar, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Ann Wilson of Heart, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Brian Johnson of AC/DC and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. Plus singles by Peter Frampton, Melissa Etheridge, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Kinks, Deep Purple and The Who. The title track of Long Live Rock is by The Who.

The singers are backed by five musicians on two guitars, a bass guitar, keyboards and drums. Opel calls his vocalists “scary good.”

Each of Opel’s performers studied their headliner’s musical styles, dress and mannerisms.

“I wanted to make sure they had the same stage persona,” Opel explains.

The full name of Opel’s show is Long Live Rock... Tribute to an Era! That era spans the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The live album era, when Opel says bands and singers “really put effort into live concerts.”

Long Live Rock is tuned to people who enjoyed that era’s concerts. As Opel says, “Us old farts that are all growed up. It gives us a chance to go back to the music we like.”

Opel hopes those “old farts” share their music with their children. One of the best moments of his life was when he took his sons, then 14 and 15, and daughter, 8, to see Aerosmith — the heroes of his youth. He spent $600 on floor seats at the Tacoma Dome so his children could witness the immenseness of the concert. That was three years ago, but his kids still talk about the show.

“I ended up watching the show through their eyes,” Opel says. “It was their first show.”

He hopes Long Live Rock has a similar effect on its audience.

Saturday’s Renton Civic Theater show will be the second Long Live Rock performance. The first was Oct. 25 in Mount Vernon.

The first show went well, Opel says, but at nearly 3 1/2 hours, was way too long. The Renton show will run about 1 1/2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

After the Renton show, Opel hopes to take Long Live Rock on a tour of western Washington theaters.

“I don’t know where it’s going to lead,” Opel says of LEPO Productions’ first show. “Stuff like this ends up on the Las Vegas strip. This could take off and be a monster or fizzle out and not be much of a monster.”

RCT adding music

Long Live Rock is just the beginning of Renton Civic Theater’s expansion into music.

The theater on South Third Street in downtown Renton has traditionally featured drama productions. The theater hosted its first music production last year. That was local Celtic group Erwilian, which will again perform at the theater Nov. 21 and 22. Aunt Dottie’s Sing Along Cabaret will also bring music to Renton Civic Theater the afternoons of Nov. 9, 16 and 23.

Renton Civic Theater’s artistic director Bill Hulls says adding musical acts is an attempt to draw more people into the theater.

“We’re just trying to get more shows in here, more entertainment available. That’s what we’re trying to do,” he says.

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