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.”
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.
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.
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