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Rocktopia

A histrionic extravaganza that mashes up classical, rock and opera. It’s like a bland PBS pledge break concert. Pat Monahan appears in it until April 8.

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Kimberly Nichole and Pat Monahan in a scene from “Rocktopia” (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Eleanor Roosevelt gets the biggest round of applause during the projected cultural icons slideshow as Queen’s “We Are The Champions” is histrionically performed in Rocktopia. It’s a hokey musical extravaganza that mashes together classical, rock and opera. Singalongs, coerced clapping, dancing in the seats and standing ovations abound. The cheerfully innocuous entertainment level is comparable to that of a bland PBS pledge break concert.

Is it awful? Spectacular? Craptastic? Campy? Rocktopia is arguably all of these adjectives in various gradations depending on one’s taste.

Special guest star Train lead singer Pat Monahan appears in it until April 8, 2018.  Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider  joins the cast from April 9 – 15. Cheap Trick’s front man Robin Zander appears for the last week of the limited run, from April 23 – 29.

Following Holst’s “The Planets,” the magnetic, limber and smooth-voiced Mr. Monahan enters dressed all in black to do a sweet rendition of his signature “Drops of Jupiter.” He also offers energetic takes on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir.”

Kimberly Nichole and Tony Vincent in a scene from “Rocktopia” (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

The thrust of the show is established with the opening number. 2001: A Space Odyssey’s theme from Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” bleeds into The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” The finale has Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9: Ode to Joy” merging into a drawn out “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. The rousing encore has the cast led by the spidery, Goth-looking Tony Vincent performing an electric “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, that’s preceded by a jaunty “Rhapsody In Blue” by George Gershwin with requisite New York City images projected.

Classical music and opera is represented by Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” and Puccini’s “Quando m’en vo (Musetta’s Waltz).” Key works by Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Barber all get anthemic treatments.

Greatest hits by Styx, Elton John, The Beatles, U2, Patti Smith, Heart, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith, and Foreigner are matched with the familiar orchestral pieces for no discernable reason other than dramatic effect.

Wearing all black tweaked formal wear, the booming vocalist, jovial Rob Evan is the nominal host. Singers Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole and Alyson Cambridge all exhibit visual appeal, vocal expertise and range during their performances. They’re all decked out in costume designer Cynthia Nordstrom’s dazzling and shredded ensembles with fashion design by Mimi Prober.

Máiréad Nesbitt and Rob Evan in a scene from “Rocktopia” (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

If there were an award for “Most Charismatic Violinist,” Máiréad Nesbitt would be the unquestionable winner. Ms. Nesbitt is dressed in a diaphanous, sleeveless, slit-skirted and corseted white and gray splashed tunic that Stevie Nicks might have worn in her prime. The lean and leggy Nesbitt shakes her long blonde hair as she vigorously plays her bow and furiously dances around.

The New York Contemporary Symphony Orchestra conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer adeptly performs the eclectic compositions. The bubbly New York Contemporary Choir offers vocal support.

With his chiseled features, close-cropped blonde hair and developed physique, guitarist and music director Tony Bruno exudes rock star presence and commanding musical skills as he plays onstage for the entire program. The scruffy jeans and shirt open to the chest add to the desired sensuality along with Mr. Bruno’s intense movements.

Michael Stiller’s production design has the stage set with levels and platforms that have the chorus and string section raised up, allowing the playing area to be inventively utilized. Mr. Stiller and Austin Switser’s projection design is appropriately flashy with celestial, nature, celebrity and historical images that continually accompany the numbers.

The Company of “Rocktopia” (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

As befitting a rock-themed production, Nick Kourtides’ sound design is suitably loud but within reason. There’s lots of spotlights, laser beams and explosive colors completing the arena atmosphere. 

Rocktopia was created by Mr. Evan and Mr. Fleischer and was first presented in Budapest and has toured internationally and in the United States before this Broadway engagement.

“The producers wish to express their appreciation to PBS for their support of this production” is stated in the program. Therefore, we can look forward to experiencing it in the future on television during a fundraising event. 

Rocktopia (through April 29, 2018)

Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.rocktopia.com

Running time: two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (561 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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