|Rob Evan. Photo: Matthew Murray|
Co-Created by Rob Evan and Randall Craig Fleischer
Musical Direction by Tony Bruno
Through April 29
By Lauren Yarger
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
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 unites music styles at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, NYC. rocktopia.com
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)
“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
“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