A collision of passions. Inside the unique new Broadway Rock n’ Roll experience, with co-creator and performer, Rob Evan
Rocktopia truly represents who I am as an artist. It’s been a journey for me. Everything I’ve done in my career the last 25 years, has led to this point. Even during my childhood, a lot of my musical influences are reflected in Rocktopia. I grew up in a small town in Georgia and sang all my life — mostly starting in church and high school. Coaches kept pulling me towards football and I ended up leaving music behind. I really just wanted to be a rock star though.
Growing up in the 80’s, Steve Perry, Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury were my idols. I sounded more like Pavarotti then I did those guys. I ended up playing college football at Georgia and again, left singing behind. I studied business and thought I would go to law school. It was not until I took a girlfriend out on a valentines date to go see Les Miserables that I realized I had to pursue music. I was shaken to the core by the show. This was what I wanted to do. Les Miserables straddled the line — it wasn’t the old school musical theater, it had some rock undertones.
I ended up taking this crazy drive to Nashville. I knew Les Miserables was coming through. I waited nine hours to sing half a song on an open call. They picked me and flew me to New York. The next thing I knew I was on Broadway. I never really looked back from there. I kept going from a small part to a large part to a leading part. I ended up playing eight leading roles in New York Broadway shows. I always had rock music burning in my sole though, I wanted to get back to Rock n’ Roll. Paul O’Neill of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra saw me perform. He was putting together this Rock Opera called Beethoven’s Last Night. He pulled me aside and told me about it back in 2001. I thought it was interesting and so cool. I joined their band, but we didn’t tour on Beethoven’s Last Night for ten years. I kept coming back to the band though, getting my rock street cred and then I worked on this show called Band of the Vampires.
A Rocktopia is Born:
Slowly, everything was a step towards what I wanted to be doing. I started producing these ideas that was basically a concert based on me and my duality as a singer. I wanted to show off that I could sing legit opera and then turn the tables to a rock song. I met a conductor named Randall Craig Fleischer about ten years ago. He shared the same passion. We came up with this idea of combing genres. The more we dug in, the more it worked. You would think it would be absurd to mix Beethoven with Led Zeppelin, but the more research we did, we realized that a guy like Beethoven was a rock star of his time. If he were alive now he would probably use the technology, we are using. Even some of his songs were controversial. We started constructing this outline of Rocktopia about seven years ago. We did a proof of concept concert with an orchestra in Ohio. We didn’t get it completely right, but the response was overwhelming. We knew we had something. I then met a producer that had some rock connects. We started really honing in on what Rocktopia really is. I wanted to make sure it showcased iconic songs that people were familiar with. These songs will go on forever from bands that people will know 100 years from now. I placed these songs into movements and arched each movement over the arch of a human life. I felt if I could find something to connect with how deep, healing and inspirational music is, someone could then experience this to the core of who they are. It can remind them of a moment of life. It’s something we all can share in. We all experience this overflow of emotions in life and often it leads to a rebirth.
We ended up creating a video that gives a nod to that. A visual can be very powerful. When people see this, they latch on to it. The cast involved is also very unique. It’s not a tribute band. It can be a challenge to educate an audience, but to see it is to understand it.
The Rocktopia Experience:
We are treating this material with a ton of respect, especially the master works. Our compositions are honoring what the composer intended. With the symphonic element, everything is elevated. The symphonic players are trained to playing difficult and complex stuff. This allows them to take “rock” to a whole new level when you are playing a song like “We Are The Champions” or “Purple Haze”.
I am glad I studied business in college because the business journey of this is also very complicated. We dealt with a lot of folks saying this is “un-produce-able” and we will never make a profit off of this, but we figured out a way. It was imperative to preserve the nature of what we envisioned without compromising too much in order to agree to what others thought would make it successful. That’s why this Broadway stop is such a great way to brand us, let the world know what we are doing, and build up some momentum. I’d like this to go on for years, ultimately leading to new iterations. We have the world’s greatest catalog at our disposal.
Music is so emotional, and I am a very emotional person. You take a Beatles song for example. You have this beautiful melody and then you add a cello to it and it just rips your heart out. It’s a crazy ride that you feel emotionally. That’s exactly what we were aiming for in Rocktopia. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour ride that goes everywhere. We take some turns on stage that are “aha” moments for the audience. We did a PBS special in Budapest, which was amazing, but the soundtrack and trailers are only a portion of what you see and experience live. We’ve done a lot of the promoting ourselves to emphasize this and its worked really well. In New York, we are going to have a local orchestra of about 20 people, plus a 40-person choirs, plus all of our singers. That’s when it feels right to me. We can deliver the music correctly, but visually you can enjoy the overall experience. The rock song doesn’t yield to the orchestra and the orchestra doesn’t yield to the rock song. You are going to get both. They come together, which is why I say we take so many different turns. Everything comes together.
The Rocktopia difference vs. Rock of Ages:
There are no parallels other than the word “rock”. Rocktopia is so different. We know we will be compared to that, in fact one of our firms represented Rock of Ages also, but that show was a fun and different experience. In fact, I was supposed to be in the Rock of Ages workshop, but I was in Tarzan and could not get out. The difference with Rocktopia is that we are a rock band. Rock of Ages dove right in to the deep end of the camping pool. It was more of a Broadway musical experience. Rocktopia is more of an interesting rock show or concert, than it is a musical.
Much of the song selection process was simply going with those that I’ve had an emotional connection to throughout my life. My wife walked down the aisle to “Beethoven’s 9th”. “Don’t Stop Believing” is just so joyful, I just felt they needed to be together. The same held true for Randall. There certainly was a vetting process. It was important for us to have a variety in our show so that anyone could find something that they really like. Not everyone is a fan of “Come Sail Away.” I grew up on a farm and my sister and I would gallop away to that song, so that one is personal. I wanted to invite the audience on that journey.
We did have to get the rights through all the artists. Pete Townshend wanted to know what we were doing with “Baba O’Riley”. We explained it and he was like,…”cool!” We didn’t consult with the artists on the arrangements though. Our renditions were done with the utmost respect, and we hoped they would embrace it. Thankfully, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and now we are in talks with some of the original artists sitting in with us on Broadway.
As a producer, it has been non-stop since we came up with the idea that we can do this on Broadway. It’s every day. Broadway is a very expensive way to put on a show. We have to come in and nail it very quickly. We don’t have the intention to take it back and tweak it. We have a six-week run and then something is coming in right after it. Our band is all over the world. We have a singer in London and a singer in Los Angeles. We will all come together in January, do a press event, and rehearse. Then come early March, we will all be in a room together on a more permanent basis, rehearsing for two-and-a-half weeks. Keep in mind, we have done the show before at this point. If we were starting from scratch, it would take months of rehearsal. We all did the Budapest show and tour together, so we have our groove. We are operating like a band on stage, … breathing together. We feel confident we can recreate that and take it up a notch for Broadway. We plan on hitting it 48 times then going on tour again.
Some of the classical side of music is fading in United States. I would love for kids to have a classical takeaway. We’ve created a study guide too. I’d love for everyone to have a nostalgic moment where they remember the first time they heard one of the songs we are performing, or the first time they saw that band in concert. Music is powerful, and to have the ability to bring someone back to their childhood can be a great thing. We also have the great opportunity to bring a diverse audience together. Some people think they are going to symphony and will dress in tuxedos while others dress for a rock concert.
What Rocktopia Means To Me:
It’s the biggest thing that has ever happened in my career. To bring my own show to Broadway, that you co-created, you’re producing and you’re staring in, is a incredible to me. Especially given that I got my start on Broadway. I left it behind a little when I ventured into the rock world. Now I get to bring those two things together into one concept. If I think about it too much I can shut down. As a producer, I am forced to stay focused and not get too worked up. I get so much enjoyment performing the show. Each time we finish, I can’t wait to do it again. The same holds true for the entire group. They all believe in what we are doing and love being a part of it. To hug-it-out opening night and say, “here we are” is going to be very special.
~ Rob Evan
Tickets for Rocktopia are on sale now! For more information and to buy tickets visit Rocktopia.com
~Shows begin March 20, 2018, six weeks only! Catch special guest — Pat Monahan of Train March 20th — April 8th.
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