Episode 14, Season 3, of Ancient Rome Refocused will be posted soon. On EPISODE 14 titled “It’s Good to be Queen,” I interviewed Lorrisa Julianus and Craig Engel. Lorrisa wrote the book and lyrics and starred in an original musical about the 3rd century Queen Zenobia. Craig directed this sword
and sandal epic. He is the co-president & artistic director of Theatre-on-the-Hill, in Bolingbrook, Illinois. A veteran, with an extensive military background, a medic with Navy Special Forces for Seal Team 8, he has the perfect combination of skill and spine to convinced the City of Bolingbrook to support the effort, bringing a multitude of activities into concert, and turning gangly ‘spear-carrying’ 15 year olds into Roman Soldiers you can be proud of. Lorrissa starred in the production. She appeared on the Bold and the Beautiful, and will soon be seen on Chicago PD. Not only does she have a ‘Broadway’ class voice but has the physicality to make anyone believe that she could survive a sword fight, which should be no surprise since she is a ‘motion-capture’ actor for the highly successful Mortal Kombat computer gaming series.
You got to admire Lorrisa’s passion and tenacity to take this classical story of ‘late-empire’ and adapt it into a musical. The show has love, passion, sword fights, spirituality, forgiveness, all at a time when the Roman Empire was split into the Gallic and Palmyran Empires. I couldn’t help to think of the DreamWorks film THE PRINCE OF EGYPT while watching it. The music was haunting.
The composer was Angela Salvaggione. The music is hard to get out of your head, and the music for the duet Who you Are is magical. I am still humming it to myself. The music for the production is haunting, and is perfect for this larger than life story.
What of Palmyra? It was centered between the Romans and the east. It grew rich on trade and decided to build for itself an empire. It was a splinter empire that broke away form the Roman Empire in the period that was called the Third Century Crisis. The Palmyrene Empire survived from 260–273, and acquired Syria, Palaestine, Egypt and large parts of Aisa Minor.
Lorrisa Julianus and Angela Salvaggione taking Zenobia on as a musical subject is a bold move. Western culture is Cleopatra obsessed. Look how many times Cleopatra is remade over and over for every generation. The list goes from Theda Bara (find a copy of the ‘lost’ silent film and you will make a fortune) through Elizabeth Taylor to the soon-to-be-released Cleopatra film starring Angelina Jolie. Zenobia may be new on the American psyche, but not in the Middle East. A different version of Zenobia’s story appeared in Dubai last April, with horses, camels and waterfalls appearing ‘live’ on stage. Julianus and Salvaggione’s version is worth your time for it has the music and Lorrissa’s voice. This is enough to transport anyone to another place and another time. You can keep the camel.
Man is a story-telling creature. The musical starts out with a telling by a Sybil, played with angelic qualities by Emily Seymour. She sets the stage. Isn’t that how every story should start? “Once upon a time…” or “Oh Muse…” or “Far away..across the sea…”
There are too many ancient stories that fail to capture the imagination of the public, because they are JUST NOT TOLD. Zeniobia is a subject ripe for song, poetry and musicals in Bolingbrook.
If you are interested in learning more about this eastern queen check out Empress Zenobia, Palmyra’s Rebel Queen, by Pat Southern or the book A Chronicle of Zenobia, The Rebel Queen by Judith Weingarten.
Here are some links:
Want to read about the director Craig Engel?
Want to read another author about Zenobia? She has a great blog.
Want to read about Lorrisa Julianus as artist?
Want to know more about Theater on the Hill in Bolingbrook?
Want to read about Zenobia the musical?
Want to read more about the Bolingbrook opening?