After releasing two albums under the name “Staring Into Nothing”, the collaborative songwriting partnership between Kurt Barabas and Steve Rogers blossomed into a live stage production featuring all new music.
“Staring Into Nothing”, the new musical/rock opera, explores the impact of mass media, social media and the digital information age on the quality of our lives. It poses and attempts to answer the philosopher’s age-old question: “What is good and what is not?”
Set to debut Friday, October 7 at the El Portal Theater in the NoHo neighborhood of Los Angeles, the full-scale production will kick off with three shows: Friday, October 7 and Saturday, October 8 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, October 9. at 2 p.m. Tickets are available through the theater website at $55 starting Thursday, September 1.
The show is led by a Broadway artist, director, choreographer Jeffrey Polk with renowned musician Denny Fongheiser as producer, musical director, drums and percussion. Additional casting and production details will be revealed in the coming weeks. Listen to a sample of the music here.
The idea of writing a musical/rock opera that explores the philosophical concept of “Quality” began with one of Steve’s favorite books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It is subtitled “An Inquiry into Values” and explores the relationship between people, technology and quality. Written in 1974, it could not have envisioned the technology we live with today, but the principles are the same.
Steve wanted to explore these same relationships in the modern world and mentions that over the course of writing “other books began to influence and enhance my thinking about ‘what’s good and what’s not’.” in a world of cellphones, tablets, email and 24-hour news cycle; especially Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Neil Postman’s Technopoly.
For the soundtrack recording, Steve and Kurt wanted to record in a more organic way than in the past. This meant entering the great hall of East-West Studios in Hollywood and recording the backing tracks live. To do this, Kurt (on bass) and Steve (on vocals and piano) had to complete the group. For this, they called on Bruce Watson to handle guitars of all kinds and Denny Fongheiser on drums and percussion. Bruce – Foreigner’s lead guitarist – showed up to the sessions with an army of guitars and amps and a boatload of enthusiasm. Denny spent many years as a drummer for Heart and many other artists including Roger Waters, John Paul JonesBruce Cockburn, Al Stewart, Pierre Framptonand Tracy Chapman. Denny was also the theme song drummer for the hit TV show “Friends”. When it came time to add background vocals, Fongheiser said, “When I first thought about doing this record, I heard Kipp and Mark Lennon from the band Venice. They’re a staple of the LA music and studio scene and come from a long pedigree of family musicians, producers and singers.When I first met Steve and Kurt (who is a huge fan of the band) in person, I mentioned the possibility of using them. They were available and they delivered big!”
Denny also served as the producer for the soundtrack recording. Record backing tracks live in the same studio where Frank Sinatra and Nirvana when recorded was thrilling. Rogers notes, “Our previous recordings were done one track and one instrument at a time, but our dream was to go back to the future and record live, like before.” Live backing tracks and guitar overdubs were recorded over 13 days in East-West. For the composers, taking 100 minutes of music from zero to nearly complete in such a short time was the dream come true and the only way for them to record again!
This project has always been written as a musical narrative. Once the songs were completed, the only question was whether they should be delivered as a film or a theatrical performance. After seeing “Hamilton”, Steve decided he absolutely wanted to perform those songs with extra dialogue and multiple actors on stage and the rock opera was born.