'Rocktopia' creates world where Mozart and Led Zeppelin coexist

Classical music and classic rock come together for the inaugural national tour of "Rocktopia: A Classical (R)evolution."

The April 7 stop at Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet features vocalists Ximena Borges, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole and Tony Vincent and musicians including Alex Alexander, Henry Aronson, Tony Bruno, Mat Fieldes and Mairead Nesbitt.

"There are a lot of pieces involved," said Evan via phone from his home in New York about the show he co-created with maestro Randall Craig Fleischer.

"We carry 17 people when we travel. Then we're picking up local orchestras and choirs. We're using the Illinois State University orchestra and their concert choir so I'm very excited to do that with young musicians. Their passion really lends itself to the music.

"We need the music to sound correct. It needs to sound epic."

Many of the touring performers are from the PBS special "Rocktopia Live in Budapest: A Classical (R)evolution." One addition to the national tour is violinist Nesbitt, formerly the fiddler for the group Celtic Woman.

Other accomplished performers in "Rocktopia" include Evan and Lowery, both members of multiplatinum-selling progressive rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Nichole and Vincent, both competitors on the TV series "The Voice."

"A lot of classic rock catalogs go on for years and years. The melodies and themes are iconic and they work together," said Evan, who toured Europe and the United States playing the title role in Trans-Siberian Orchestra's rock opera "Beethoven's Last Night."

"A lot of those classic rock songs do well with 65 pieces as opposed to a four-piece band. When you put strings and horns on Queen's 'We Are the Champions,' 'Kashmir' by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd's 'On the Turning Away,' it just really brings it to a new place. It's so much fun."

"Rocktopia" includes one-of-kind arrangements featuring works by classical composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven, George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and rock bands such as Foreigner, Heart, Journey, Styx, the Who and U2.

Those who support their local PBS station, such as WTTW-TV (Channel 11), by pledging can receive the DVD and/or CD featuring the "Rocktopia" performance recorded at the Hungarian State Opera House.

"It was another star of the show. It was so pretty," said Evan about the venue in Hungary.

"I felt like bringing rock 'n' roll into that hall was about the coolest thing I could ever dream of. We performed with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra and their choir. That was the best thing that had ever been in that opera house."

Despite Evan's two decades of professional entertainment experience, he originally played football and pursued a business degree before being hooked on performing after seeing "Les Miserables" on Broadway when he was a college senior. He later played Jean Valjean in that very musical on Broadway.

"My love was really rock 'n' roll so I always wanted to be the lead singer of a rock band, not necessarily a Broadway star or an opera singer, which was what I was doing. Randy had a love of rock too," said Evan about Fleischer.

"I love Giacomo Puccini as much as I love Led Zeppelin so I thought, 'Let's create a world where both exist. If Beethoven or Mozart were alive today they'd be the rock stars."

"It's a great show for a lot of different types of people," added Evan who has played leading roles on the New York stage including in the original Broadway cast of "Jekyll & Hyde" and has opened and performed with artists such as Michael Crawford, Sir Elton John, REM, Usher and Joe Walsh.

"If you love classical music you shouldn't be scared from the word 'rock.' I think if you love rock, anything classical or operatic is also very cool. A lot of these bands over the course of years have incorporated a very theatrical, operatic style.

"That's my love. I walk the line between being a classical singer and rock singer. I also created a show, too, that was bigger than one person. I wanted the idea and the concept to continue whether I'm performing in it or other singers are performing it.

"Unique voices are what we're looking for and we feel we set the bar pretty high."

Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

'Rocktopia: A Classical (R)evolution'

When: 8 p.m. April 7

Where: Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago St., Joliet

Tickets: $42.50; $62.50; $102.50

Information: 815-726-6600, www.rialtosquare.com or www.rocktopia.com