I’m not here to spoil anyone’s fun—and I can’t blame the Shuberts for wanting to collect some rental income between shows (well, maybe I can)—but “Rocktopia”, a touring music concert currently enjoying a six week residency at the Broadway Theatre, is one of the most garishly self-indulgent, sublimely absurd, bland, and loud experiences I have had in any Broadway theatre.
Despite lofty claims in promotional material about being a “groundbreaking”, “rule-busting multimedia extravaganza” and “classical revolution”, “Rocktopia” is really just a one-trick rock concert in which snippets of top-shelf, survey deep classical compositions are mashed-up with and swallowed whole by beloved rock songs from the 1970s and 1980s, as if to say, again and again, “see what we did here?”.
The promised “full symphony orchestra” of 20 players is barely beyond chamber size, the “powerhouse choir” of 30 is vastly under-utilized, and the quintet of “Rocktopian” vocalists suggest your favorite losing contestants from “American Idol”—passionate, well-packaged, talented enough, but ultimately unremarkable. I managed to catch the week where there is no special sixth vocalist, which have included Train’s Pat Monahan and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander is up next; I get the sense, though, that the absence of a headliner is not the missing piece.
Remember “Stuff White People Like”? That numbered list of banal and basic people, places, things, ideas, and activities? Well, you can add “Rocktopia”. Pairing spoon-fed rock nostalgia with familiar classical cuts designed to reinforce rather than expand musical horizons is just the kind of easy, cheesy, ersatz intellectual experience “white people” love.
Between the watch checks and walkouts, and the reminder/plea to “come back after intermission”, some people were having the time of their life. And good for them. I, personally, was transfixed by the PowerPoint presentation of stock photos and video clips that accompanied each song—anodyne images like flowers blooming, people holding hands, a skyline, clouds, the Grand Canyon, the Sphinx, Stonehenge, and to “We Are the Champions” a bizarre and sometimes jarring parade of personalities from Abraham Lincoln to Amelia Earhart to Anne Frank to Vincent Van Gogh. Because, sure.
Creators Rob Evan (who performs) and Randall Craig Fleischer (who conducted earlier in the run) clearly put some thought into all of this, as evidenced by the study guide on the “Rocktopia” website, but to me it feels like an interesting idea that got far too many yeses along the way. The arrangements are messy, obvious, and often forced, and the sound mixing so blunt that any effort at craft seems beside the point. If you want to experience popular music played by a symphony orchestra, check out the New York Pops instead.
Bottom Line: “Rocktopia” is a one-trick rock concert in which snippets of top-shelf, survey deep classical compositions are mashed-up with and swallowed whole by beloved rock songs from the 1970s and 1980s. Garishly self-indulgent, sublimely absurd, bland, and loud, you can skip this well-intentioned musical experiment gone awry.
New York, NY 10019
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: March 27, 2018
Final Performance: April 29, 2018