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LA Theater Review

Evel Knievel, the Rock Opera

No one should be surprised that this rock opera, set to 1970s-style guitar-band music, is ridiculous. After all, it chronicles the life of a man whose claim to fame is jumping his motorcycle over things and too often crashing spectacularly. What's required to make this opera by writer-composer Jef Bek (with additional lyrics and music by Jay Dover) work as absurdist comedy is to present the material with an earnest, even serious, demeanor. And director Keythe Farley, co-creator of Bat Boy: The Musical, does exactly that. A few of the more than 40 songs are too serious, which leaves them dull. But, for the most part -- thanks to several strong voices, a capable lead performance, fun visuals, and Farley's ability to deliver the irony -- this rock opera might wind up another off-kilter hit in the mold of Bat Boy.

The intermissionless show is nonstop guitar-driven music, performed by a four-piece band (Bek is drummer and music director) located under a semicircular jump ramp, designed by Sibyl Wickersheimer. The story concentrates on the daredevil career of Bobby "Evel" Knievel (Chuck DiMaria) and his romance with wife Linda (Traci Dinwiddie). The highlights are Knievel's lowlights -- his failed jumps over the Caesars Palace fountain in Las Vegas, across Snake River Canyon, and over many buses at London's Wembley Stadium. Also involved in his career is friend Marty (Andrew Wheeler), who writes a tell-all book; mechanic Tex (David Kirk Grant); and a mythical, Elvis-like Father Time (Kyle Nudo).

The show's humor stems from Bek's lyrics, which are laughingly bad, such as "All I want to do is reach for the sun...and jump the Grand Canyon," and "He's going to fly, fly through sky. We're going to see, history." DiMaria, dressed in a white jumpsuit (designed by Ann Closs-Farley), never veers from white-hot intensity. His vocal skills, complete with Bon Jovi-like wails, are a perfect fit for the rock songs. Nudo, wearing a black jumpsuit and a pompadour, is part Elvis, part Liberace -- and quite funny -- as the all-knowing Father Time. The ensemble spends much of its time shaking hips and pumping fists, the two main components of Lindsley Allen's cheerleader choreography.

As interesting as the live performance is the series of vintage videos of the real Knievel and a classic commercial hawking his action figure. They add to the kitsch factor, which is high enough to pull off this nuttiness.

Presented by and at the Bootleg Theatre,

2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m. Sep. 28-Oct. 28.

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