Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Rocktopia

Rob Evan. Photo: Matthew Murray
Rocktopia
Co-Created by Rob Evan and Randall Craig Fleischer
Musical Direction by Tony Bruno
Broadway Theatre
Through April 29

By Lauren Yarger
Rock and classical music blend for a concert, in all places, on a Broadway stage in Rocktopia, a musical experience co-created by Broadway vet Rob Evan.

It seems like a mix of Trans Siberian Orchestra (with which Evan has performed) and "Hooked on the Classics" which topped the pop charts in the '70s by putting a rock beat on Beethoven's 5th.

Here a 20-piece symphony orchestra (conducted by Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer of the San Francisco Symphony), a five-person rock band (featuring music director and guitarist Tony Bruno), Celtic violinist Mairead Nesbitt) and a 40-member choir join with featured vocalists to put a new spin on works by Mozart, Queen, Handel, U2, Tchaikovsky, Led Zeppelin, Beethoven, Journey, Copland, The Who and more. 

Evans (Jekyll and Hyde) leads the almost three-hour concert (with intermission and two encores) and is joined by Tony Vincent (American Idiot; "The Voice"), Kimberly Nichole (the "Rock Ballerina" from "The Voice), Alyson Cambridge (opera), Chloe Lowery (vocalist with Trans Siberian Orchestra; Yanni) and special guest vocalist, Pat Monahan, lead singer of the band Train. (Monahan continues through April 8 and will be followed by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander April 23-29).

It's fun to hear some favorites, whether you're into rock or the classics, but it's the twist that raises some questions. Does everything really need an updated beat? I like the second movement from Beethoven's 7th just the way it is. Just because it can be played with a rock beat -- and very, very loudly, which seems to be the theme of most of this show's sound design by Nick Kourtides -- doesn't mean it should be. Less is more might be a good philosophy to follow here. Why not present some classics in traditional form too?  Lowery's rendition of  Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love is" is quite  moving until she is joined by many voices -- many loud voices -- and scream belts. 

The idea of a concert fusing different musical styles is good. It just needs a bit more orchestration, pun intended.

Knowing what we are seeing and hearing might boost appreciation too. There's no song list in the program (I offer one below to help you in your music-appreciating experience). If you don't know what the tune is, or anything about it, it's hard to appreciate the treatment it gets from the "New York Contemporary" orchestra and/or choir or the main singers, who for the most part, aren't introduced until the end of the program. Those in the know give a cheer at Monahan's entrance, but those unfamiliar with Train flip through their programs trying to figure out why everyone got so excited.

We also see images projected (Michael Stiller and Austin Switser, design), that remind of animated greeting cards, which simply provide background for tunes. Sequences using images of people are more confusing as names aren't included and themes aren't identified. There is a set that appears to be a tribute to legends no longer with us and another presenting those worthy of inclusion during "We Are the Champions" by Queen, but we're kind of guessing.

There is flashing, bright lighting (production design by Michael Stiller) to create a rock-concert atmosphere and ratty, unattractive negligee-type dresses for the women performers that make us think they must be stopping at a bordello on the way home from the concert. . . (Fashion Design by Mimi Prober; Costume Design by Cynthia Nordstrom).

Rocktopia began as “Rocktopia: Live from Budapest” and was recorded in front of a live audience in June 2016 at the 19th century Hungarian State Opera House for PBS. It was performed with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra with six vocalists, a five-piece rock band, the Hungarian State Opera Chorus, and the Jazz and More Choir. The show since has toured to more than 20 cities in the United States, featuring local symphonies and choirs. It competes its Broadway run 

Rocktopia unites music styles at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, NYC. rocktopia.com

Additional credits;
Pianist Henry Aronson (MD/Conductor/keys for entire Broadway run of Rock of Ages, The Who’s Tommy); bass player Mat Fieldes (Joe Jackson’s Grammy winning album Symphony No. 1, the Gorillaz, Book of Mormon); and drummer Alex Alexander(David Bowie, Jimmy Cliff, Ritchie Blackmore)

 Song list:

ACT ONE

“Also sprach Zarathustra” (STRAUSS)/ “Baba O’Riley” (THE WHO) Vocalists: Rob Evan, Tony Vincent “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” (MOZART)/ “Come Sail Away” (STYX) Vocalists: Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent “Lascia ch’io pianga” (HANDEL)/ “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (ELTON JOHN) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Tony Vincent “Piano concerto No. 2 in C minor” (RACHMANINOFF)/ “Alone” (HEART) Vocalist: Chloe Lowery “Symphony No. 7: Allegretto” (BEETHOVEN)/ “Stairway To Heaven” (LED ZEPPELIN) Vocalist: Pat Monahan “The Rite of Spring” (STRAVINSKY)/ “Purple Haze” (JIMI HENDRIX) Vocalist: Tony Vincent “Overture from Romeo & Juliet” (TCHAIKOVSKY)/ “Because The Night” (PATTI SMITH) Vocalist: Kimberly Nichole “Another Brick in the Wall” (PINK FLOYD)/“Uprising” (MUSE) Vocalists: Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent “Kashmir” (LED ZEPPELIN)/“Nessun Dorma” (PUCCINI) Vocalists: Pat Monahan; Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent

ACT 2

“Pictures at an Exhibition: Gate of Kiev” (MUSSORGSKY)/“Where The Streets Have No Name” (U2) Vocalist: Rob Evan “Symphonie fantastique” (BERLIOZ)/“Dream On” (AEROSMITH) Vocalists: Pat Monahan, Kimberly Nichole "Quando m'en vo (Musetta’s Waltz)” (PUCCINI)/“Something” (THE BEATLES) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan “Caruso” (DALLA) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan “I Want to Know What Love Is” (FOREIGNER) Vocalist: Chloe Lowery “Adagio for Strings” (BARBER)/“Who Wants to Live Forever”,“We Are The Champions” (QUEEN) Vocalists: Chloe Lowery, Tony Vincent “Symphony No. 9: Ode to Joy” (BEETHOVEN)/“Don’t Stop Believin’” (JOURNEY) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Pat Monahan, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent “The Planets” (HOLST)/“Drops of Jupiter” (TRAIN) Vocalist: Pat Monahan “Rhapsody In Blue” (GERSHWIN)/“Bohemian Rhapsody” (QUEEN) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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