Reuters/Hollywood Reporter - Hollywood club takes a "Jesus Pill"

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter - Hollywood club takes a "Jesus Pill"

May 24, 2006

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Los Angeles has a long tradition of splicing musical theater into a rock club environment. In the early '70s, long before it became a midnight movie sensation, the stage production of "The Rocky Horror Show" enjoyed a lengthy run at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. In the late '90s, "White Trash Wins Lotto," Andy Prieboy's Guns N' Roses spoof, graduated from a three-year residency at Largo on Fairfax to a Roxy stand.

That tradition will continue starting June 21, when "Taking the Jesus Pill," musician Charlie Terrell's Southern Gothic rock extravaganza, returns to the Hollywood club King King for a third run of six weeks.

The show, which combines music, dance, drama and multimedia elements, began life in the mid-'90s as a short story Terrell penned that looked back on his upbringing in a small, devout Alabama community.

"We started a church above a Magnavox appliance store," Terrell says. "I grew up with a lot of religious background. When I was real young, I wanted to be a preacher. Around when puberty hit, I got real confused."

Terrell's story -- about a crazed fire-and-brimstone preacher, his alcoholic wife, their hellcat daughter and the roadside prophet who steals her away -- became the basis of an album (the rock singer-songwriter's third) that he recorded for Virgin's Point Blank imprint in 1997. "I took it to them," he recalls, "and they said, 'Dude, you're on a blues label. Have you lost your mind?'"

Terrell wrestled the unreleased songs into a stage piece that was produced in 1998, not entirely to its author's satisfaction, at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, Mass. Then, Terrell says, "I put it away for a long time, put my guitar in the closet and did graphic design for five years."

However, the opportunity to stage the show anew developed when Terrell -- who reignited his musical ventures with some King King shows -- was encouraged to pull "Taking the Jesus Pill" out of the desk drawer by club owner Mario Melendez.

In 2004, Melendez was trying to develop traffic at his Hollywood Boulevard space, where he had relocated after years at the intersection of La Brea and Sixth Street. "(Charlie and I) kept knocking our heads," Melendez says, "and he said, 'I got this musical.' It got me off my ass to get the gear and lights and learn a bit about musical theater. . . . It was a collaborative buzz."

Staged at 7 p.m. before the evening's bands performed, the show enjoyed two Sunday night King King engagements. Retitled "Tougher Than Grace," it initially ran for seven months; bearing its original title and staged more elaborately -- "Charlie got an understanding of how to marry all the pieces together," Melendez says -- it played another four months. By the end of the second run, it was drawing as many as 200 playgoers a week.

For its return stand, "Taking the Jesus Pill" will bear the imprimatur of Hollywood retailer Amoeba Music, whose promotional efforts will include an in-store performance by Terrell and his troupe July 25.

Beyond the new run, Terrell has his sights set on an album version (possibly incorporating some of the '97 recordings), a New York engagement ("New York's the big dog . . . I want to go anywhere where people are receptive," he says) and, ultimately, a film production.

"When I write music," Terrell says, "I think of film -- of little movies."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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