It’s hard to deny, Rec Room’s nostalgia game is going strong. After a successful opening to
the group's Monday night My So-Called Life reboot, founder Stephanie Wittels Wachs is keep the party going with a tribute to a few recently fallen musical idols with Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club, running through September 10.
“When we decided to open Rec Room,” Wachs begins, “Prince had just died. It was April. And, of course, Bowie died before that. And [director Matt Hune and I] went back and forth, talking about Rec Room’s mission, what we wanted to accomplish, and we thought it’d be great to form some sort of tribute to these guys.” Simultaneously, Wachs says, she was passed an influential Slate article about the tradition of the public mourning of famous figures “[Our] public mournings now happen on Facebook and Twitter, it’s so compulsively [for our] society. It’s very reminiscent of Greek tragedy. [This article] made us think of these idols, who just died.” Wachs says that her “personal in” to this introspection on mourning came from the passing of her brother, comedian and Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels, who passed away in 2015. “He was a sort-of public figure,” the High School for the Performing Arts professor says. “I experienced that public grieving, and I thought it was so bizarre at the time. And all those events culminated in this idea.”
Acknowledging the gravity of hosting (what is essentially) a public grieving, Wachs describes the showcase — which will feature some of the two megastars' hits, including “Changes,” “Ziggy Stardust” and “Purple Rain” — as something closer to “a live extended music video.” She continues: “There is a loose narrative, but everyone is going to find something different in it. It’s very abstract. The audience will literally get songbooks. Singing is optional. Like anything in Rec Room, you can participate as much or as little as you want. No one is getting pulled onstage!”
Wachs serves as not only the show’s producer but also its co-writer. “The text is a woven mixture of Prince and Bowie lyrics, excerpts from various Greek tragedies and random tweets that we’re finding online.” Scouring the Twitter-verse for Bowie and Prince-related messages, it’s not hard to find fan-crafted tributes, with #prayforprince and #byebyebowie both yielding thousands of results.
Speaking to the strength of her cast, Wachs boasts that all her cast members (who include Gerardo Velasquez, Orlanders Jones and Dano Colon) also double as competent musicians. “We have these two super-talented guys in the cast who are these rapper-guitarists and they’re playing this beautiful acoustic version of Space Oddity that goes into Ashes to Ashes.” On her co-writer and director Matt Hunes, Wach is very complimentary: “It’s going to be visually spectacular. Matt is incredible at producing magical imagery. That’s certainly his forte.”
Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club has also given Wachs the opportunity to open the door to the next generation of artists, specifically with her stage manager/co-writer, Grace Cunyas. “Grace was one of my students, back at HSPVA [The High School For the Performing and Visual Arts]. She came back from DePaul and she just said: ‘Do you need anything?’ And we asked her to [be] stage manager, but then it dawned on us – like a big lightbulb above our heads – she just majored in playwriting! So she helped us pluck out this story; she’s just amazing.”
Cunyas is not the only young artist getting a shot under the Rec Room banner. “One of the guys in the cast is a current senior at HSPVA. Our assistant stage manager is in her senior year too. And we’ve got this amazing 11-year-old girl [in the cast] singing an a cappella Prince song. I might be biased, but I think these [students] are some of the most phenomenal talent around,” she brags, with a smile. “They’re excited, passionate and want to work!”
With luck, Rec Room’s Dead Rockstar Sing-A-Long Club will give two great artists one more night in the spotlight.
Performances are scheduled for August 18 through September 10 at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays at 100 Jackson. For information, call 713-344-1291 or visit recroomhtx.com. $25