Dengue Fever had come to the Big Apple in 2015 to perform a concert, but it was an unrelated encounter with Bay Area playwright Lauren Yee that had a lasting impact on the Los Angeles band.
“She wanted to meet up and have a beer and talk about some stuff,” recalls Zac Holtzman, guitarist and co-founder of Dengue Fever, which started in 2001. playing in a Cambodian rock and roll band.”
Yee had definitely contacted the right group, who are known for performing classic Cambodian pop and rock songs.
The idea sounded appealing to Holtzman and his bandmates, so they decided to embark on an adventure with the San Francisco-born playwright. Next stop was the ground floor, Berkeley Repertory Theater’s new play development program. where the work – called “Cambodian Rock Band” – was first developed in 2016.
All these years later, “Cambodian Rock Band” is finally ready to make its Bay Area premiere at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater. Directed by Chay Yew, the live music play begins previews on Feb. 25 and runs through April 2.
The play, described as darkly funny, tells the story of a survivor of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime who returns to Cambodia after 30 years, just as his daughter is about to become one of the country’s most notable war criminals. to prosecute.
It features a soundtrack of classic Cambodian songs from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as modern Dengue Fever songs, performed by a live band on stage.
No, that live band is not Dengue Fever, but rather a group of actors trained in music.
“We were actually helping the actors learn how to play our songs,” Holtzman says of Dengue Fever’s involvement during the play’s early stages of development.
He also says it was great to see how the play developed heading into opening night.
“It was good from the start, but Lauren wasn’t just doing little brushstrokes of changes for every rewrite,” says Holtzman. “They were always very dramatic rewrites.
“It was pretty impressive to see how it changed — that she would be so brave to scrap things and change things and see how it works in a different way.”
Holtzman has seen “Cambodian Rock Band” a number of times since opening in 2018 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa and always pays particular attention to the music played on stage.
“I love watching Joe, especially because I worked with him most closely because he plays guitar in the play,” Holtzman says of Obie Award winner Joe Ngo, who plays the character of Chum in the play. “I like to see his technique improve over the years. So that’s really cool.
“I told him to leave his guitar outside – in the kitchen or something. Never put it in the case and put it away. So every time you wait for a pot of water to boil, you pick it up and noodle around.”
And occasionally Holtzman can even join the actors/musicians on stage.
“We try to meet up when we can and regularly play a Dengue Fever show in the same city when the play is on,” he says. “It makes for really super fun evenings. Usually we go to see the play and sometimes they call us to join the stage at the end.
“Then they come to our show after that and we do the same thing — they come and play a few songs with us towards the end. Many people flow from one to the other. It will just be a complete takeover of a city.”
At least look, Dengue Fever had no Bay Area concerts planned. Still, fans can keep watching dengue fever music. com for new dates.
‘CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND’
By Lauren Yee, featuring songs from Dengue Fever, presented by Berkeley Repertory Theater
When: In previews February 25-28; main run is from March 1 to April 2
Where: Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
Tickets: $49-$123; berkeleyrep.org.