What would happen if classic composers like Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky had the tools that today’s songwriters have? What if Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky were rock stars today? It was this idea that inspired recording artist Rob Evans and maestro Randall Craig Fleischer to create Rocktopia, a musical revolution celebrating the fusion of the best rock songs of the past century with some of the greatest classical music ever written. Rocktopia showcases the works of musical innovators, including Mozart, Journey, Handel, U2, Tchaikovsky, Heart, Beethoven, Journey, Foreigner, Rachmaninoff, Queen, Copland, The Who and much more. Rocktopia delivers one-of-a-kind, spine-tingling musical arrangements with insanely talented lead vocalists, a five-piece rock band, a choir of 40, and an orchestra of 20. This is a big production!
Rocktopia hits Broadway for an epic six-week run from March 20 until April 29 at the Broadway Theatre, which is located at 1681 Broadway in New York City. Here’s the kicker: Pat Monahan from Train will be joining the cast of Rocktopia for the show’s first three weeks. I was able to preview some of the show on their PBS Special, Rocktopia: Live from Budapest, and it was amazing! Any rock fan would love this show! I was lucky enough to sit down with co-creator and singer, Evans, about Rocktopia. Here’s what Rob had to say.
How did you come up with this concept for Rocktopia? It reminds me of Rock of Ages meets Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Yeah, I wish I did rip-off of either one of those because I have extensive experience, especially with the latter, but I think it’s something really different. And that’s the hard thing that we’ve always found. I’ve been working on this project for almost a decade. I met my co-creator, his name is Randy Fleischer, and he is the maestro of several regional orchestras and the musical director of 15 major symphonies around the world and because we’ve worked in the symphony world a lot, we realized that we both had this kind of duality about ourselves. We were both trained classically, but we really had an affinity for rock music. And so, we’d run into this concept again and again when I first started singing Beethoven’s Ninth in church and not realizing it was Beethoven. [Begins belting out Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony] I didn’t know that was Beethoven! I grew up in the ‘80s to hear Journey and Foreigner and Styx. I was a big Queen fan. Floyd and Zeppelin were bands I wanted to do, but I’m built more like Pavarotti than Robert Plant.
[Laughs] So, when I was trying to figure a concert project for me knowing that I was a quote-unquote Broadway star [Rob starred in Les Miserables and Jekyll and Hyde to name a few], but not a giant name, what am I gonna create? I gotta create a concept and not just Rob Evans James or whatever you want it to say. And so, I came up with this idea of me doing Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” and then singing “Don’t Stop Believing” from Journey or “Kashmir” from Led Zeppelin. And so, that was kind of the genesis of the idea.
Then when Randy and I sat together, we realized that the symphonies aren’t really having a great time playing all of these whole notes and these concerts, which is what they were trained to do. So, we decided let’s pick them up. And that’s when we came up with this concept of if Mozart or Beethoven or Stravinsky or Rachmaninoff were alive today, they’d be the rock stars because they would utilize the technology we have today like electricity, and their hooks were as big as any hook that is giant today.
And on the other side, I think the work that Jimmy Paige, and Pete Townsend and Freddy Mercury created were way beyond our lifetimes. We tried to create this type of utopia of bringing these two worlds together, but on a very different level that’s been done before. So, when you talk about Rock of Ages — which I’ve been very close to people in that organization — that vision was to just to have a great time, and this was just my take-away from it, was to just really enjoy the guilty pleasure that was the ‘80s and do some Jello shots. [Laughs] To the other side with Trans-Siberian Orchestra with my mentor Paul O’Neill, who passed last April, he had these stories that he can tell that were just so prolific and he was a poet and true that he inspired people and changed lives and made the world a better place through his holiday experience.
My show is a little different than either one of those. I’m just trying to find a world where I think that the icons, without time being a problem, can all live together because that’s really it means being an artist. It makes me want to sing everything at the highest level. And so, we developed Rocktopia, and we came up with this idea of it being arced around the human life, because that’s the thing we all have in common. There’s no story to this. There’s no narrative or anything like that, but have you ever been to a concert where you were touched so deeply by something whether it was a memory or you heard a song, you never forget that moment, especially if it’s delivered at the highest level. Secondly, we also never wanted to be a tribute band even though we are paying homage to those genres. We are doing it in our own creative voices. So, we have this group of artists that are really different, but not trying to emulate anything other than what’s in their heart and what we feel is organic to that moment.
Was the goal to put it on Broadway?
Well, Broadway was my background. Randy has never been on Broadway. He’s a symphonic artist. It’s not in his wheelhouse. I thought I was done with Broadway — not in an evil way, but I just had moved on to the rock world. So, performing with rock bands and being a concert artist was what I thought was the next stage of my career, but instead, we should go back to Broadway because we need a world stage for this thing and this concept. I think that really long-term is touring, but we have been pre-dispositioned that we’re going to run longer than we are.
We got six weeks. That’s all we want. That’s all we ever needed. I want to come back again every year and call it a residency. Just like Billy Joel calls The Garden his residency. If I can dream for a second, but this is a touring project. This is just not a band of artists and singers. It’s the concept that I am more interested in and then doing it around the world, and then bringing it back to Broadway again. I don’t even see myself touring with this long-term. I just think there’s something really special to help out combining these two worlds. Watching audiences react to it while we’re onstage, that’s the best part of my night.
Did you need to get permission from the artists to use their music? I mean obviously you couldn’t get permission from the composers, but…
Yeah, the ones who are alive! [Laughs] Yeah, there are certainly rights that you always have to get, and originally, I know that one of our team interacts with Pete Townsend because we use “Baba O’Reilly” at the beginning of the opening sequence. He himself called and said, “What are you guys doing?” And they said, “Well, we’re fusing your music with Richard Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” And he was like, “Oh, okay! That’s cool!” Dennis Deyoung wanted to see what I was doing with “Come Sail Away,” and Jonathan Cain of Journey wanted to hear what we did with Beethoven’s Ninth and “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Again, they’re in good company and they deserve to be, you know?
There was one clip I saw, where it sounds like you sing operatically with one of the female singers and it was amazing! Are you a classically trained opera singer as well?
Well, she came from the opera world. Unfortunately, she’s not going to be available to us when we come to Broadway because she pulled us aside after we announced we were coming to Broadway, and she had just gotten pregnant and planned her first child with her husband — and we wish her well because she’s amazing — but we hired another singer from the Metropolitan Opera. Her name is Alyson Cambridge, and she is spectacular. So, Alyson will be there with us and that’s what we wanted. We wanted authenticity from every angle of what we’re doing.
You have quite the Broadway resume — which includes Jekyll and Hyde, Little Shop of Horrors and Les Miserables — but you also sound amazing singing on these rock tunes. Why didn’t you ever just join a rock band?
Do you know the music industry? [Laughs] For so many years, after some success on Broadway, I felt like I had an opportunity here to try to make my mark and live the dream and do what I wanted to do. And I was put into the same swimming pool with Jim Steinman, who was one of my heroes. He wrote all of the Bat Out of Hells. He wrote “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and Jim kind of saw what I did, and was like, “Yeah, that’s completely in line with what I write. I write these over-the-top epic theatrical things.” And so, Jim, around me, created a band called the Dream Engine, and it just didn’t happen. We worked and worked and worked and tried to create new songs and sometimes it doesn’t happen. So, I realized that being a family man, I need to go make it happen for myself, and that’s kind of when I started this whole idea of, “Let’s show them different sides of my voice,” and then realizing that the concept is bigger than the artist.
You surround yourself with some really great singers too. Isn’t there someone from NBC’s The Voice in the cast?
Tony Vincent, yes! He was a brief contestant on CeeLo’s team, but really is known for his Broadway rock star kind of thing. Kimberly Nichole was also on The Voice. Chloe Lowery was with Yanni Voices and Trans-Siberian Orchestra — but more than their actual resumes, these people are really unique, and that’s what I really wanted to find. I just wanted something really different. So, when you put these people in a room together, the musicians as well, it becomes special.
Rob assured me that the PBS Special is nothing compared to the live performance, which hits Broadway on March 20 and runs until April 29 at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. For more info and tickets, visit Rocktopia.com.