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Máiréad Nesbitt and Rob Evan



                                By Eugene Paul


Rocktopia, which originated in Budapest eight years ago bills itself as a classical revolution, its logo a bust of Beethoven overlaid with an electric guitar, its stars Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Tony Vincent, Kimberly Nichole, Alyson Cambridge and Pat Monahan.  That bust transforming electric guitar is played by Tony Bruno.



Pat Monahan and guitarist Tony Bruno


Mairead Nesbitt plays an electric violin and long platinum hair. Henry Aronson is dignified at a grand piano. Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer conducts the New York Contemporary Symphony and the New York Contemporary Choir, which is divided, half in sturdy looking bleachers either side of the great Broadway Theatre stage. In one corner is concentrated a high tech electronic console double staffed.  Across the back of the stage are electronic panels which present a constant light show interpretive of the music. It is a towering enterprise built atop a single pinpoint: electric power. Pull the plug and –doom.




Which is almost the way the show started. Rob Evan, microphone in hand addressed us. Nothing.  He tried again.  Nothing.  He waggled at the master control console and a flustered but determined technician came out, handed him another microphone and—the show was on.  It was the last spontaneous moment in the entire engineered program, but we didn’t know that then so it was kind of fun. Or – hmmm, was it staged?


If you are  likely to look at your program  to see who staged the show, who wrote the show or who composed the music you’d  be a bit discombobulated because no such accreditations are there but do not despair: deeper in the program, right before the Shubert Organization page nearer the back, after the bios of the entire cast, you’ll find most of a page printed in 8 point type, good eyes required, which does indeed list the entire musical program, the composers both classical eminences and rock eminences, each pairing as wedded in the performance, rather like Beethoven with that guitar in his face. For example” “Alzo Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss, public domain, paired with “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, written by Peter Townshend, Spirit Music copyright. There are additional forty-some compositions, classical, classicalish combined with rock, and rockish which make up the entire musical evening.



Tony Vincent and guitarist Tony Bruno


But that’s only part of the show.  Throughout, there’s the incredibly wide ranging video designs by Michael Stiller and Austin Switser. From kinderkitsch through worlds of history, art, architecture, pop icons, burgeoning to memento mori. There’s the entire controlled auditory design by Nick Kourtides, from silence to gut rending. There is unending, ever changing, lighting, ranging in every color and intensity from blinding to visually hushed which is somehow not credited, but costume design (Cynthia Nordstrom) is paired with fashion design (Mimi Strober), so while you lose some credits, you gain some credits.



Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer


And everybody works. Hard. Conductor, musicians, soloists, vocalists,  engineers, crew.  Nothing looks easy, nobody holds back. Every number builds to wall shaking. It’s seventy percent an old fashioned outdoor arena type rock show brought to Broadway indoors, welded to a road show classical concert with necessary electrified voices – how else can you compete? – For a rectification of balance, which never happens. Applause is summoned – and earned – again and again during the hour and a half of the first act, after which there seems to be a general sorting in the audience, from the standing ovationeers to the bolters, and hard as it may be to believe, the snoozers _ through all that teeth vibrating din? – refreshed, ready for more.




That is, if you bought into the premise: that great classical music and rock music have a natural affinity and continuity of esthetic, a consummation devoutly to be wished.  Nothing could be further from the truth.


Rocktopia. At the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street.  Tickets: $35- $187. 212-239-6200. 2 hrs 20 min. Thru Apr 29.