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Musical brings Bosnia to Utah

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The quiet streets of Logan are a long way from war-torn Bosnia. The Bluebird Cafe on Logan's Main Street has stayed much the same since it was built 60 years ago, and no one knows where the bomb shelters are.

However, on Monday this pleasant, peaceful community will host the workshop premiere of "Vlast" a brand new operatic musical set in the world's most troubled region.Because of the Utah Festival Opera Company productions currently playing at the Ellen Eccles Theatre, the shops on Main Street are having sidewalk sales. A huge stereo system blasts oldies, and a clown with a multicolored wig dances and emcees, adding to an atmosphere of celebration. According to "Vlast's" creators, Bosnians aren't too different from Logan's sidewalk celebrants. "Vlast's" opening number is a street festival.

"The idea behind the opening number is that even though there are these incredible limitations, these people are saying `we're going to have fun and celebrate,' " said Paul Perkins, who conceived the idea for "Vlast" and co-wrote the music with his brother Jonathan. Recalling a story he heard from a Bosnian violinist, Jonathan Perkins agrees, "We're trying to show the humanity behind the war."

"Vlast" describes the struggles of a Bosnian family. The father has risen to power as a general and the son challenges that power, leading to a meeting on the battlefield in which the son prevails. There's a deciding moment in which the son must decide whether to not to kill his father.

"It's sort of like he's the image of his father so he's victim to the same hate his father was," said Jonathan Perkins. "Not only is he required technically to kill his father, but it's an emotional requirement as well because of the hate he feels. The only thing that stops him is the connection he feels with his mother."

"Jon and I have a very strong mother," said Paul Perkins. "She's a clinical therapist, and in some ways the mother in the play was born of that sort of strength. Also, I was impressed by the women I read about in the Serbian diaries. The mother character is definitely the voice of humanity. She constantly talks about family connection and love."

Family connection is important to the Perkins brothers, who say their own family has been on a journey, learning to be close to one another. Both left home at 16 to study at the Interlochen Arts Academy, and their education and career paths have taken them far from home.

"As I started having successes, I began to really miss my family," said Paul Perkins. "I thought - and maybe this sounds cheesy and idealistic, but it's where I am in my life - it's not worth it unless you have people to share it with."

Both brothers acknowledge the difficulties of collaborating with family, but Paul Perkins still mainitains "Jonathan is the only person who I trust with my musical ideas."

Jonathan Perkins is a conservatory-trained composer and jazz pianist who admires the music of Stephen Sondheim and Chick Corea. His music for "Vlast" bears a trace of both artists as well as a smattering of Puccini.

"One of the things we're trying to do here is create a new style of American musical theater," said Paul. "We're taking a realistic, Stanislavsky-based acting style and combining it with a Puccini-esque tonal form of 20th century music.

"These won't be Rigolettos or Gildas or King Henrys that people will see on the stage. They will see real people, people they can relate to, and yet the music is also very operatic and very beautiful."

Paul Perkins, who sings two roles in UFOC's season, started as an acting student at Carnegie Mellon. After he found his niche as an opera singer, he held on to the ideals he learned there.

"Being a performer, I was always very frustrated that I was acting like a 20th century character, dressed like a 17th century character and singing 19th century music. There were all these people, (directors, conductors and costume designers) with all these different ideas, and I thought `why isn't there any collaboration?' "

For this reason, all of "Vlast's" production elements, from directing to lighting design, are collaborative efforts. Many of the technicians and performers are donating their time because they believe in the project. Brian Montgomery is flying out at his own expense to sing one of the leads. Because of his experience in all aspects of theater, from acting and directing to costume and lighting design, Paul feels he can keep the creative team "on one track."

The success of "Vlast" will depend on how well the team works together. The music is gorgeously operatic and at times catchy, but the fine-tuning that takes place during the workshop stage depends on communication between collaborators. Judging from the collaboration between them, communication is a skill the Perkins brothers seem to have.

The workshop production of "Vlast" plays Monday, July 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Ellen Eccles theater in Logan. Call 435-750-0300 to reserve free tickets.