For my birthday the Misses gifted me tickets to something called "Rocktopia." Having never heard of it, I had no idea what to expect, although I later learned they had appeared on PBS. So, Friday night we headed up to Joliet with a couple of good friends.
We first went to dinner at The Reserve restaurant at Harrah's Casino. Nice place with an agreeable ambiance and accomplished staff. Food was excellent. Having said all that, the portions were small and over-priced, particularly for a casino. I know what you're thinking, "oh, the big guy thought the portions were too small." Well, the couple we were with also thought the portions were undersized and over-priced. Harrah's needs to bring the prices down or add more food to the entree's. And for the record, I'm pleasingly plump says the Misses.
But I digress. About Rocktopia – it was performed at the venerable Rialto Theater in Joliet, which is my favorite place to see a show or concert. I believe the word “quaint” was invented to define the Rialto, as nothing more needs to be said. Concerning the show, much in the vein of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra of blending various genres of music, Rocktopia has artfully infused both classical and operatic compositions with rock music and then throwing in the obligatory light show. The revelry encompasses the traditional rock band comprising a hard-driving thumper on drums, a bass player to stand desolately in a corner wearing a dumb hat, and a blazing bad-boy electric guitarist, complete with ripped jeans and open shirt, all of whom have played with some of the best rockers in the world. Also featured is a "local" chorus showcasing the Illinois State Chorus from Normal IL for Friday night's performance. There is also the obligatory sexy vocalists and a small orchestra section to round out the musical spectacular. From my vantage point, two things stood out about the orchestra – the kettle drums player looked to be about twelve years of age, which certainly didn't hinder his performance, and a middle-aged balding trombone player who looked like he had little-to-no interest in being there. He adequately filled a void behind the bass player.
Co-creator of Rocktopia, Rob Evan was on hand and capably carried various vocal duties throughout the evening. A great musical talent, but alas, the man would never have been confused as one of the sexy vocalists of the show. Not surprisingly, he had previously been part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra vocalists himself. No amateur, he has appeared in many world renown plays and performed with a virtual who's who of the music world. Right out of the Trans-Siberian playbook, there evidently is more than one cast for Rocktopia, as another show played in Columbus OH the same night, which featured Randall Craig Fleischer, the other co-creator.
I don't want to get into too many details as to ruin your experience should you decide to partake in this event. Having said that, I was awestruck from the opening melody when tiny waif-like Mairead Nesbitt burst, pranced, strutted and frolicked out on stage playing her violin. At first, the tune is unrecognizable, as one is not quite sure where this melody originates nor where it is going. Gradually you begin to recognize a popular song by the Who and guitarist Tony Bruno joins her in a mock battle of stringed axes. At this point, the music doesn't matter because the diminutive Mairead commands your attention in the way she moves about the stage playing her fiddle, as if it was as natural as only lifting your arms. Even her smile and the way her long blonde hair flowed was almost…mesmerizing. A little research led me to learn she is part of the Celtic Women group that has been touring and recording the world for more than a decade… and that I spelled her name correctly.
The performance included songs from a diverse list of long-dead classical composers, such as Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff, that bled into works of bands such as Journey, U2, Led Zepplin, Foreigner and Pink Floyd, to name a few. At one point, the orchestra started with an overly-lush song from Emerson Lake and Palmer but somehow turned it, with the help of the rest of the act, into an austere but popular Pink Floyd song as flawlessly as if it had been written that way originally.
To spike this musical punch further, Evan and the world renown Ximena Borges would trade opera licks that also blended richly with the classic rock songs remembered so fondly. Yes, I said opera...and it came off superbly. She concluded one well known rock song by effortlessly belting out Beethoven’s Ode to Joy that completely came out of left field on the listener and made the hair on the back of necks stand up. Even the white hairs in the audience, which were numerous (and I suppose included me) were bobbing heads and tapping toes to the songs.
The website for Rocktopia is https://www.rocktopia.com/. They have a few videos to review that, quite frankly, do their show no justice. I checked it before we went and came away not having any better idea of what was in store for us. The website is still highlighting a trip to Hungary in June of 2016 and needs to be brought up to date.
The bottom line is that if/when they come back to this area, it is well worth the $59 per head price tag. If you go, you will more than likely see me there…it was that good.