By Scott McLennan
“Five hundred years from now, people will come to that album the way that people come to Wagner and Beethoven. This is a classical piece from our era.”
Donald Trump isn’t the only one obsessing over a wall. Canadian singer and songwriter Richard Petit likewise cares deeply about a big, impenetrable wall; in his case it’s not just a wall, but The Wall, Pink Floyd’s masterwork that turns 40 years old in 2019.
In homage to the seminal album, Petit developed “The Wall Live Extravaganza,” which is a blend of music and theater inspired by Pink Floyd’s album, the visual wallop the group crafted for its concert presentations of The Wall, and the 1982 film Pink Floyd – The Wall directed by Alan Parker.
Petit initially staged a version of The Wall in Montreal with local celebrities mirroring Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters’ historic 1990 concert in Germany commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall. The response was tremendous, and Petit dived deeper into a fresh telling of the tale about a psychologically and emotionally battered rock star named Pink.
Petit’s production went on tour in 2016, joining the pack of commercially successful and Floyd-fan approved tributes that range from Aussie Floyds to Brit Floyds. “The Wall Live Extravaganza” held its own among the competition and is back again with a production that has fine-tuned and updated the visuals and staging.
The new touring show arrives on Wednesday, March 13 at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston.
Reached by phone ahead of the tour, Petit sounded like he walks a fine line between honoring the vision of Pink Floyd’s Waters — the main creative force behind The Wall — and taking creative liberties.
On the one hand, Petit is in awe of Pink Floyd’s music. He does not stray from the versions of songs you hear on the album that has so far sold more than 23 million copies and is among the most popular rock albums of all time.
“I don’t like it when you go see a cover or tribute band and they play an extended version of ‘Comfortably Numb,’ doing a solo that doesn’t exist,” Petit said referring to one of the signature numbers off of The Wall. “We take the music exactly as a conductor would leading an orchestra. We do what people know, and these fans know everything. We are trying to target perfection.”
But he leaves room for innovation, such as placing other slices of Pink Floyd music into the production. When the character of Pink is in school, for instance, and chastised by his teacher for writing a poem during class, the verses in question are the lyrics to “Money,” a song from Pink Floyd’s trippy touchstone Dark Side of the Moon.
Elsewhere in the show Petit weaves in some of the tunes from Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, which had its genesis in music produced for the film version of The Wall.
“The universe of The Wall is very large,” Petit said.
Petit breaks from the aggressive, claustrophobic production Waters originally conceived for The Wall when Pink Floyd toured in 1980. He literally constructed a towering structure that separated the audience from the musicians. Petit also eschews the politicking that Waters made central to his presentation of The Wall in a concert tour that spanned the globe from 2010 to 2013.
In contrast, using the film as a guide for free-flowing images and themes, Petit developed a presentation that doesn’t rely on construction of a barrier between audience and players. Instead, he has concocted a three-dimensional portal into the music. “I wanted to do the opposite of what Waters did when I saw his show in 2011,” he explained. “My perception is that this is a very intimate story. It looks at a common feeling of loneliness. I wanted to do a version of The Wall that mirrors the way I felt it as a teenager.”
For Petit, the music of The Wall, rather than an interpretation of its message, is at the center of the experience.
“It’s a masterpiece,” he said. “Five hundred years from now, people will come to that album the way that people come to Wagner and Beethoven. This is a classical piece from our era.”
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.