Originally Published: July 31, 2009
Author: David Yonke
If you're looking for a nightmare, Centennial Terrace is the place to be Sunday night.
Alice Cooper is bringing his Theatre of Death tour to the newly renovated outdoor venue, and the master of the macabre promises it will be more terrifying than ever.
"It's the Theatre of Death - and what do you do to top any of our other shows?" Cooper asked in an interview this week. "I thought, 'Why not do all of them? Let's put everything into this show!'"
The rock star with the blackened eyes has "died" on stage many times during the course of his 40-year career. He's been executed by guillotines and hangman's nooses and electric chairs and squeezed to death by monstrous snakes.
The current tour features a taste of all these terrible demises - and then some.
"There's two or three new devices we've never used before. So it's really a fun show," Cooper said.
Fun as in horror-story lyrics backed by bone-rattling, guitar-powered rock and roll.
And while the lyrics may be sinister and dark, in the end of Cooper's stories the good guy always triumphs over evil.
"Evil should get punished, it should never win," Cooper said. "And that, to me, is what's most satisfying. I may love Darth Vader when I watch Star Wars, but I feel relief when he finally gets what's coming to him."
Cooper, 61, was one of the first, if not the very first, rocker to treat his stage as a canvas that could illustrate the musical ideas in his head.
Even before achieving stardom in with the 1971 album "Love It To Death" and such hit songs as "Eighteen" and "School's Out," Cooper was incorporating visuals into his stage shows.
They were low-budget props, to be sure. In his first Toledo-area concert, the only stage prop was a screen door. Each of his dramatic entrances would bring a new Cooper persona onto the stage.
"That was it - a screen door and a flashlight and a hammer and whatever we found backstage," Cooper said. "And let me tell you how that carries over: Anybody can go out and spend a lot of money and buy lasers and smoke and blah, blah, blah, but all of that has to come from the actors. It has to come from the band. It has to come from making the lyrics come to life.
"If you sing 'The Ballad of Dwight Fry' or 'Welcome to my Nightmare,' you have to give them the nightmare. So for me, that's where everything comes from in our show. It's Alice acting out the lyrics."
Although Cooper typically performs on an elaborately decorated stage, it may come as a surprise that he has never used pyrotechnics or laser lights.
"We've never used all that stuff. I've always said I'd rather have the show be more of a 'psychotic vaudeville.' That's what's really going to make it fun. So we're always sort of like the carny side show," he said.
And, he quickly added, the visuals are secondary to the music.
"If we do eight hours of rehearsals, 6 1/2 hours is all music," Cooper said.
He hires musicians who not only have the musical chops but love the Cooper songbook and can't wait to stand beside Alice and fire off such classics as "Hey Stoopid," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and "Billion Dollar Babies."
In addition, Cooper said, his band members must love the spotlight.
"I say, 'When you're on my stage I want you to be a rock star. I don't want you to be 'Mr. I'm A Great Musician And I'm Introverted.' I want you to be, 'I'm a great guitar player and here it is, I'm going to shove it down your throat.' To me, that's what a rock star is."
His Theatre of Death lineup features Kerri Kelly and Damon Johnson on guitars, Chuck Garric on bass, and Jimmy DeGrasso on drums.
Cooper recently wrapped up a European tour that included a near-disaster on June 20 in Novosibirsk, in Siberia, where he was to headline an outdoor show with the Scorpions, Kingdom Come, and Rusmus.
Rows of lighting trusses and their support columns collapsed, destroying the stage and forcing the concert to be canceled.
"It was late in the afternoon and the first band was probably going to be on in about an hour and the entire lighting system collapsed on the stage," Cooper said. "If that had happened during the show I guarantee somebody would have been killed."
This time he was not talking about theatrics.
Cooper recalled with a laugh how he and his band had been criticized in the early 1970s by the former Soviet news service Tass.
"I had a news clip that said, 'Alice Cooper is the worst example of western decadence and they will never play Russia and they will never set foot on Russian soil and they are proof that America is the devil.' And of course I had it blown up into a wall-sized display and now I've played Russia four times and they love us over there."
Alice Cooper's Theatre of Death tour will be at Centennial Terrace, 5773 Centennial Rd., Sylvania, at 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $28 and $53 from Ticketmaster outlets. Information: 419-882-1500.
(Originally appeared online on the Toledo Blade website, on July 31st, 2009.)