Zappa rock opera Joe's Garage finally makes it to the stage

The Zappa Family Trust has been busy the last few years releasing material from the Vault and, recently, Gail Zappa has given the OK to iTunes, Amazonmp3 and other digital download sites (via the digital music distribution service Web site, TuneCore.com) to make available 15 out-of-print Zappa records (initially released in the early ’90s as massive boxed sets titled Beat the Boots I and II, and later issued as 15 individual records).

Aside from branching out into the digital realm, Gail has overseen a theatrical production of Zappa’s late ’70s rock opera Joe’s Garage, which premiered in Los Angeles in September 2008.

“… [T]his is the first full-on production of Joe’s Garage the way Frank wrote it,” says Gail, who bestowed the honor upon producers Pat Towne, Charlie Otte and Michael Franco.  “…  Frank tried to stage this since he wrote it. Lots of people have asked, but it has just never been exactly right. [But] within two meetings, [Towne and Franco] had brought me a little version of the ‘Central Scrutinizer’ that they were going to build. I said, ‘OK, this has got to be it.’ … The feeling was right.”

The basic theme of Joe’s Garage crops up in the annals of mainstream and prog rock, from Rush’s 1976 LP 2112 to Styx’s 1983 effort, Kilroy Was Here. However, there is scant evidence that a thinly veiled high-school musical was ever before based on unethical journalism, a scandal-ridden Catholic church and the greed inherent in the music industry. These timeless concepts are as relevant today as when Zappa unleashed his three-act epic in 1979. (Joe’s Garage was spread over two separate installments; Acts II and III were released as a double-record set).

“People have a hard time believing that everything that is in Joe’s Garage Frank wrote, but there are no changes to the material,” says Gail.

Zappa’s brain hatched so many ideas, and his creative tentacles slithered their way into so many different media and art forms that Joe’s Garage is not the only Zappa project with stage-production potential.

“Dweezil and his band, Zappa Plays Zappa, are doing ‘Billy the Mountain’ [originally appearing on Just Another Band from L.A.], which is a piece I’ve often thought about expanding,” says Gail. “That runs about 25 minutes as it is. [Frank] wrote ‘Stink Fish’ and wrote another piece called ‘Hunchentoot’ [a science-fiction musical written in the early 1970s], which is a fantastic little charming opera. … There [are] different ways of presenting things. I’ve always wanted to see Civilization [Phase III] presented as a ballet, which is what Frank had in mind when he wrote it …”

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