March 1, 2018 Rocktopia Set To Take On Broadway
Rock and Classical music seem like odd bedfellows at first, but there are plenty of connections between the two. Sometimes there is just a touch of orchestra in a Rock song, like “A Day in The Life” by The Beatles. Other times, the band covers a classic piece themselves, like ELP’s take on Ravel’s “Bolero.” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” famously referenced operatic terms like Scaramouche (a commedia dell’arte character) and Figaro (a la Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro). While others either played out like an opera, think The Who’s 1969 album Tommy, or sounded like one gatecrashed by metalheads, like almost anything by Nightwish.
So, it is perhaps no surprise Broadway star Rob Evan (Les Misérables, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) joined up with San Francisco Symphony maestro Randall Craig Fleischer to produce Rocktopia: a mashup of Classic Rock and Classical music. Debuting in 2016 via the PBS Special Rocktopia: Live from Budapest, it will be making its way to Broadway on March 20, 2018 at The Broadway Theatre in New York City for a 6 weeks run before an opening night set for Tuesday, March 27th. Classical composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Copland will fuse together with the likes of Queen, U2, Led Zeppelin, and Train.
Some of you may be thinking one of those names sticks out; Copland was born 80 years after the end of the Classical era, so he is not technically a ‘classical’ composer. That is splitting hairs compared to what most may have pointed out: Train and Led Zeppelin together? Again, after their 2016 cover album Train Does Led Zeppelin II, why, yes indeed! Train’s Pat Monahan will be performing for the first three weeks, bar March 21st-22nd, including Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” While Rob Evan himself says that “The fusion we have created with Train’s song for the encore is truly exciting!” Which Train song is it? Check out Telecharge.com to buy a ticket to find out. Special student pricing is at $39. It starts at 7:30PM on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, 8PM on Fridays, 2PM and 8PM on Saturdays, then 7PM on Sundays.
However, for those who want a preview, based on the inaugural Budapest show from 2016, it was produced by Jeff Rowland and Two Hands Entertainment. It was performed with the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra, six vocalists, a five-piece Rock band, the Hungarian State Opera Chorus, and the Jazz and More Choir, amongst others. Was it, as the show subtitled itself, “A Classical Revolution?” Or, does Dad-Rock clash with great-great, etc-grandad tracks?
Although, not every song was performed in Budapest. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” into Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” and Puccini’s “Quando m’en vo” into The Beatles’ “Something” remain theatre exclusives. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall II” into Muse’s “Uprising,” a Rock-into-Rock mix, is not on offer either. That in mind, it packs enough into its one hour for a decent taste of what to expect from the show.
The show opens with Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” leading into The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” It makes for a great opener, with Rob Evan himself and Tony Vincent (RENT 1998, Broadway’s American Idiot 2010) performing “Baba.” Yet Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” moving into Styx’s “Come Sail Away” makes the strongest impression. It introduces all the key vocalists, and even makes a neat mash-up return to Strauss at the end.
Though some fusions do not blend quite as noticeably as others. “Caruso” into Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” is delivered well by Rob Evan and Ximena Borges (Joyful Noise 2013, Corners EP 2017), as well as Chloe Lowery (Yanni’s Voices 2008, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) respectively. The vocals are lovely, especially Lowery as she goes all-out. The orchestra, chorus, and choir work wonders with it too.
Others fusions include Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” with U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” into Aerosmith’s “Dream On” by Carrie Mana and Kimberly Nichole (NBC’s The Voice series) is also fair. The former features some great guitar work, while the latter has strong vocals. It still feels like classical dressing before an orchestra-backed version of the modern song.
Nichole does great work on Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” as it works its way in, out, and around Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet Overture.” Borges and Vincent also perform a neat mashup of Handel’s “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” with Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” The way they link together through alternating vocals stand out from the usual classical-modern structure. Though if there was a must-see composition, it would be Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” meeting Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Way,” performed by Vincent, Nichole, Mana, Evan, and Lowery. It is the best example of Rocktopia’s mission statement, as the orchestra, band, and vocals are at their peak here.
Taste may vary, but the show is guaranteed to deliver a tight package of performances. Based on the PBS special, the orchestra was on top form, the Rock work was on point, and the fusions reach great heights. Only time will tell how it does on Broadway, as Alyson Cambridge (La Boheme, Madame Butterfly), Máiréad Nesbitt (Celtic Woman, Lord of the Dance), and Train’s Monahan will be stepping in for Borges, Carpenter, and Mana. Yet, with the extra song to offer, and more than likely a ton of new energy, it should make for a lively night out for any music lover!