In September 2015, over the course of four sold-out shows, Ayreon's legendary progressive rock concept album 'The Human Equation' was brought to life as a full-blown musical production at the Nieuwe Luxor theater in Rotterdam.
This limited run of performances was witnessed by die-hard fans from across the world, but now Arjen Lucassen's story can be witnessed by all, as a recording of the final night of those special evenings is being released as both a DVD & Blu-Ray package, subtitled in nine different languages and including nearly one-and-a-half hours of bonus content.
'The Theater Equation' show stars Dream Theater frontman James Labrie in his original roll as “Me” and features nearly the entire cast of vocalists from the original 2004 album. The main cast is supported by a specially put-together 19-strong Epic Rock Choir. This is a unique document of an undertaking that was surely once in a lifetime.
THE THEATER EQUATION PRODUCTION (as told by Arjen Lucassen)
One of the most frequent questions I get is “When are you going to tour with Ayreon?” I’ve lost count of the times I’ve explained what a logistical and financial nightmare it would be to try to perform Ayreon live.
First of all Ayreon features a huge number of international artists, all of whom are busy with their own bands. How do you get enough of them in one place at one time and for the many weeks of rehearsals it would take to get a show together? And then there’s the fact that playing live is really not my passion anymore; I’m much happier living a quiet, reclusive life as a composer/producer.
Finally there’s the music itself, which is pretty intimidating to perform live: one of the hallmarks of Ayreon is its elaborate productions and multi-layered tracks. The arrangements are complex and feature a huge array of musical instruments. Re-arranging everything into a format that would work for a live show would be a huge job, and in my mind it would be a compromise. Being a perfectionist, compromise isn’t something I’m particularly good at.
So while it’s true that a couple of my other projects have adapted the odd Ayreon song for live performances (Star one in 2002, and Stream of Passion in 2005 – 2007), there had never been a whole show devoted to performing Ayreon live. Until now, that is.
All in all the planning and preparation took nearly two years, most of which was done by an external theater production company. Joost van den Broek (Star One, Ayreon, After Forever) was at the helm as musical director and put together a stellar band. Joost also adapted my original arrangements to suit the instruments available. This meant simplifying some of the more complicated arrangements, and creating new parts for the orchestral instruments. But despite my misgivings about compromises, he did an amazing job!
When it came to casting, I knew that a theatre production only really made sense if enough of the original cast members could be there to play their parts. Fortunately, nearly all of the original cast was available (James Labrie, Marcela Bovio, Irene Jansen, Magnus Ekwall, Devon Graves, Eric Clayton, Heather Findlay) and we found excellent replacements (Mike Mills, Anneke van Giersbergen, Jermain “Wudstik” van der Bogt) for those who weren’t.
The Nieuwe Luxor theater in Rotterdam was chosen as the venue, and dates were set for 18, 19 and 20 September 2015. The original plan was to put on three shows, but because they sold out unbelievably fast and cries of disappointment from people who still wanted tickets practically broke my Facebook feed, a fourth show was added on the afternoon of the 19th.
Artists confirmed, dates set and tickets sold, it was time to start production, which would take another 18 months.
Part of the producer’s vision for this show was to use a full choir rather than conventional backing vocalists or digital backing tapes. Choir auditions were held in Dordrecht (NL) in June 2014. Of those who auditioned, 19 singers from 7 different countries were selected for what became the Epic Rock Choir.
Vocal rehearsals and overall staging started at the production headquarters in summer 2014. A few of the choir members did double duty as understudies for the main cast. The understudies were there as a safeguard in case an artist couldn’t perform on the day, but they would also coach and assist the artists in learning their parts in the week before the show.
The idea was to have everything rehearsed and ready in time for the main cast’s arrival in the Netherlands, a week before the show. The band of excellent musicians only needed a few rehearsals before they were ready to go.
The international cast arrived on 18 September, 2015 and were rushed directly to the production headquarters for costume fittings, hair and make-up tests, the official photo shoot. That evening, after a BBQ and welcome party, the understudies and choir performed the entire show with backing music so the cast would finally see what they would be performing in a few short days.
To say it was a lot to learn in a very short time is an understatement. Rehearsals began early the next day, and the cast, band and choir would have only 7 rehearsals in total before the final dress rehearsal for the photo press that Thursday. The understudies were extremely well prepared and did a fantastic job helping the cast members learn their parts and stage cues as quickly as possible.
There were also loads of technical details that had to fall into place in time for opening night: Lighting, sound, effects, the projection screen, not to mention avoiding wardrobe malfunctions! It took the hard work and dedication of a huge team of people (going above and beyond the call of duty) to make it all happen. That they did it under such extreme time pressure is amazing.
In the end, everyone pulled together, and spurred on by a wildly enthusiastic and appreciative audience, The Human Equation was brought to life on opening night.
Even today as I write this, I am amazed and touched by how hard everyone worked and how much love and care they generously gave to make it all happen. Sometimes the dream becomes reality!
Arjen Lucassen, March 2016
THE HUMAN EQUATION STORY
After a mysterious single-car accident, the victim – a man in his late 30s – lies comatose in the hospital. Before the accident he was a powerful businessman, wildly successful by any measure but also known for his cutthroat business tactics. Now he finds himself trapped in a prison that took him a lifetime to build: the prison of his own mind.
Guarding the prison are his emotions, which have taken on vivid personas inside his mind. Some are friends, some are foes, and they all have their own agendas. Some aim to trick him or dominate him, others to comfort or inspire him. But the one objective they all share is to force him to face up to the demons of his past and the deep truths about who he is and how he's lived his life, all of which he's conveniently ignored until now. Fear, Rage, Agony, Love, Passion, Reason and Pride take turns engaging the man in this emotional warfare.
Two people hold vigil at the man's bedside: his wife and his best friend. They are desperate to understand how the accident happened and to see even the tiniest sign that the man will regain consciousness. But the man's recovery is not their only concern: is it possible that he somehow found out their secret, and that the “accident” wasn't really an accident at all? Would he ever be able to forgive them?
Will the man have the strength to face the truth about himself and the ones he loves? The story unfolds over his twenty-day emotional struggle with Fear, Rage, Agony, Love, Passion, Reason and Pride, in which each day of coma is represented by a song.