Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Rob Evans of Broadway’s Newest Production Rocktopia – We are Performing Songs that will Still Resonate a 100 Years from Now!
From March 20 to April 29, 2018, Rocktopia will rock The Broadway Theatre in New York City. Rocktopia is a musical revolution that celebrates the fusion of the rock’s best songs from the past century with some of the greatest classical music ever written. Part rock band, part symphony Rocktopia showcases songs from Mozart, Queen, Beethoven, Journey, Handel, U2, Tchaikovsky, Pink Floyd, Heart, Rachmaninoff, Foreigner, Copland, The Who and more. Tickets to Rocktopia can be purchased at the following link: https://www.telecharge.com/Broadway/Rocktopia/Overview
I had the opportunity to speak with vocalist, co-creator, and visionary behind the rock masterpiece Rocktopia; Rob Evan. We discussed what the audience can expect and the work that goes into bringing a show of this magnitude to Broadway.
Robert Cavuoto: You’re the co-creator of this amazing show, Rocktopia, how did you come up with the idea?
Rob Evan: It’s the sound track to my life, and Rocktopia is really who I am as an artist. It’s been in development in my brain for 30 years. [Laughing] I really started working on this concept eight years ago trying to create a concert product. I was trained as an opera singer and performed on Broadway at a very young age in Les Miserables and Jekyll & Hyde and worked with Jim Steinman on Dance of the Vampires. I wanted to have a concert where I can do both my classical training and my love of classic rock. I grew up in the 80’s with Journey, Foreigner, Styx, Queen, and Zeppelin. I was in a rock band, but I sounded more like Pavarotti than Lou Gram [laughing]. I was not the obvious choice to go right into rock, so I found that medium ground where I could walk a line between rock and theater. In 2008 I came up with this idea and realized there was a lot of commonality between classical music and classic rock. Randall Craig Fleischer who is my co-creator comes from a heavily classical background, so we decided to fuse the two and to debut a couple of the rock numbers at a show. As I sang the rock songs, I watched people flip out. As we went deeper and deeper, we felt we really have something here. My business partner comes from the rock n’ roll world, and he also produced some Broadway shows; so this is a sweet spot for him. Rocktopia debut it in Youngstown in 2012. We kept working on it and refining it as we knew it deserved a life of its own. We don’t dumb down the classical versions, we play them as they were intended then meld in the rock songs and bring the classical themes throughout the rock songs. It just became this pretty cool thing.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the work that goes into assembling the artists and musicians?
Rob Evan: I always say casting is the hardest part of this. I don’t ever want this to be considered as a tribute band. When I sing Bono’s, “Where the Streets Have No Name” I sing it like me. I’m not trying to pretend to be anybody. That’s why I really wanted to do some gender flipping songs. When had six lead singers in Budapest who were all so unique and different but when we came together we brought that electricity. When I pitched this to Tony Bruno our lead guitarist who played with Rihanna, Michael Bolton, and Joan Jett; he initially said, “This is not for me!” I worked him over, and now he is my musical director and collaborator on all these new works. When you work on this, you start to realize you are part of something special. So when you tell all these musicians we are going to do this on Broadway they all want to kill it, and want to be the best rock band they can be. We have Alison Cambridge from the Metropolitan Opera to handle many of the lead vocals. We have top of the game people like our violinist Mairead Nesbitt who has been the face of Celtic Woman for a decade. She left Celtic Woman to come over with us because she believed in what we were doing. When it comes together with everyone, it’s pretty magical.
Robert Cavuoto: I recently saw you and Rocktopia’s live performance from Budapest on PBS. How did you get involved with them for the pledge drive?
Rob Evan: PBS came to us and said we have something special, so they wanted to put this on a national pledge drive. We flew to Budapest and filmed a show. We then did a tour in the Spring hitting 20 cities in theaters and peoples loved it. We started to get into the groove of what this is. I was thinking of having a different orchestras in every city based on the venue size for one-nighters like with rock bands. We felt we can tour this in a lot of different areas, but my main goal is to get this to the arena level. Broadway is really the next step with my background and bringing it for a limited run just makes sense.
Robert Cavuoto: You were also in Trans-Siberian Orchestra, how did you get involved in that production?
Rob Evan: I met Paul O’Neil in 2000 for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, they had recorded an album called Beethoven’s Last Night and the singer they had, couldn’t sing it live. I’m known for having a wide range so Paul could write songs in 2 ½ octaves, and I could sing those live night after night.
Robert Cavuoto: Is it seasonal like a Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
Rob Evan: We don’t have to stick a season. The other good thing is we have the world’s greatest music at our disposal to continue different versions of Rocktopia. This show should resonate around the world, so it’s not just an American product. I would love to do a version in Asia, London, and Germany. I would like to build the brand and educate people on what Rocktopia is and what we are doing. I don’t have to be the face of this band; the idea is that the music is the star. We can have multiple casts that are known in their country serving the music bringing the vision to the highest level. Songs like “We are the Champions, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and “Baba O’Riley” these songs should last. We are a concert event.
Robert Cavuoto: You’re on Broadway for six weeks; will you be performing at every show?
Rob Evan: Oh yeah, I’ll do all it all live eight times a week. [laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: How do you go about choosing the right songs for the production?
Rob Evan: I want to show a different side of this material from the way other artists interpret it. The classical songs are themes that everyone knows whether you like classical or not. For instance, “Rhapsody in Blue” you might know as the United Airlines theme. So it’s a way to educate some non-classical audiences to some great themes. Then the rock songs we chose were songs that I thought would resonate for 100 years from now.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have the flexibly to change the songs night-to-night?
Rob Evan: We were just discussing that. Let me tell you the way I arced the show. If you go to a concert, it’s for escape; whether it be emotional or nostalgic or on a personal level where you were moved or touched by it. Music is a wonderful art form that everyone enjoys. The second commonality, regardless of your gender, race, or political views is that we all share the human condition of birth, adolescence, experimentation, rebellion, and love. The whole show is over the human life. I added extra movements, my adolescence movement is a song by Handel called “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” mixed with Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” which morphs into Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto #2” then into “Alone” by Heart. That’s one chunk of a whole movement. We have video content that will allude to that, but I’m not telling you a story. Your imagination is stronger than me telling you what to feel. That’s just another layer of Rocktopia that you can enjoy and take away from. We will also have a few new compositions special for New York. Some will be for the encore others will be fit into the set whether lyrical or musical themed. I want everything to feel organic.
Robert Cavuoto: Are there any surprise guests that we can expect at the Broadway shows?
Rob Evan: I can’t announce anything right now, but we do have some special appearances. I can say there is one guy that I have had my eye on who is super talented and relevant. He is going to do three weeks when I was only expecting him to come in for a night. He is completely onboard. I’m working on fusing one of his songs for the encore because his song is worthy of this treatment. We will also have some other big name stars sitting in with us for a night. We are backed by the 25 musicians of the New York Symphony Orchestra and a different choir every week because we want to involve the community as much as possible. It will be an event.