BY MICHELLE PEREZ-VEGA
When first speaking with Classical Music Extraordinaire Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer, you wouldn’t guess that he is a huge fan of the late Jimi Hendrix.
“Oh, no doubt, Hendrix was the greatest quintessential virtuoso of that instrument!” Fleischer exclaimed. “I don’t know of anyone else that I could really say that about. The greatest that ever lived! I would have loved to have had the opportunity to work with him.”
Fleischer, however, is content to meld his love for Classical Music with Classic Rock in Rocktopia, now playing on Broadway through April 29, 2018 at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.
Rocktopia is “inspired by the idea that if Beethoven or Mozart were alive today, they would be modern-day rock stars.” Created by Fleischer and Rob Evan (recording artist for Jekyll & Hyde), music for the show features music from Mozart, Queen, Beethoven, Journey, Handel, U2, Tchaikovsky, Pink Floyd, Heart, Rachmaninoff, Foreigner, Copland, the Who, and more.
In addition to Fleischer and Evans, the cast includes Vocalists Alyson Cambridge, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, and Tony Vincent; Celtic Violinist Mairead Nesbitt, Guitarist Tony Bruno, a five-piece rock band, a 20-piece orchestra, and a 40-member choir. Guest vocalists throughout the six-week run will feature Pat Monahan of Train (through April 8th); Dee Snider of Twisted Sister (April 9th-15th); and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick (April 23rd-29th).
Rocktopia is the amalgamated ‘love child,’ so to speak, of several different shows Fleischer and Evans worked on separately throughout the years. Fleischer, renowned for his work in the areas of symphonic rock and world music fusion, has worked with other rock entities such as John Densmore of The Doors, Blondie, John Cale of Velvet Underground, and Garth Hudson of The Band, among others. Rocktopia Live From Budapest: A Classical Evolution made its debut on PBS in 2016 to rave reviews.
“I had been working on symphonic classical rock arrangements since high school,” Fleischer explained, “and Rob is a classically trained opera singer turned rock ‘n roll star. We originally met about 15 years ago and started to talk about these various projects we had done. We started putting our heads together – I threw out some ideas, so did Rob. Push came to shove; Rob was working on one show at the time and I on another, and we just merged the two together which eventually became Rocktopia.”
For the rock fans that think they wouldn’t enjoy or connect with the show, Fleischer said “they got another thing coming,” to quote the great Judas Priest.
“I can guarantee,” Fleischer stated, “ANY rock fan would love Rocktopia, because there’s nothing remotely watered down about either genre. It’s not taking the Fifth of Beethoven and putting it to disco music. It’s taking Classical and Rock music, melding them like they were born together in a scene from a great rock opera. If you love Jesus Christ Superstar or Tommy, you will love Rocktopia – the melodrama of Classical music with all the raging of Rock!”
What about the die-hard Classical fans? No problem, Fleischer reiterated.
“About 80 percent of those I know that are Classical music lovers are also into Rock,” Fleischer said. “Face it; it’s a dying breed, the Classical music fan that only loves Classical music! The audience from Rocktopia is very hip and diverse,” he continued. “My 17-year-old daughter and her friends know and love all the songs, and I have people well into their 80’s who just love it. It can be done!”
But back to Hendrix…is there no one else on Fleischer’s Wish List?
“Don’t get me wrong, there are others,” Fleischer laughed. “Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Carlos Santana… But Hendrix was the best. The kind of sophistication that he brought to that instrument was way beyond anything anyone had done before hand or has done since.”
Vocal-wise, who would Fleischer also like to work with in the future…say, Axl Rose or Myles Kennedy, perhaps?
“Um, from what I’ve heard, Axl can be kind of a handful,” Fleischer said humorously. “Be careful what I wish for! But, let’s see, definitely Robert Plant, Steven Tyler…Sure, Myles Kennedy can give me a call, I’m available!!”
If Fleischer is hesitant about naming his favorite vocalists, ask him what his favorite song in Rocktopia is.
“Oh,” he said, “I love them all! But, since you asked, my favorite combination has to be Pictures At An Exhibition (Gate of Kiev) by Mussorgsky paired with U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name. But, I love all my children the same!”
In Rocktopia, U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” reflects the idea that “one can identify the race, gender, religion and socio-economic status of a person by hearing their street address,” according to a study guide about the show. “It speaks to a world where everybody is equal and there is no longer a “class” system. Rocktopia chose to use “Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky’s piano work, “Pictures at an Exhibition” because of the connection between “streets” and “gates” (gates provide open access to streets in a sense opening the door to a new kind of world) and because the nature of this music is completely life-affirming.”
Arranging the songs was an experience for Fleischer as well.
“For example, I actually sat down at the piano and played Purple Haze,” Fleischer remembered, “and I was like, oh my God, listen, it has similar chords as those in Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring! I just started building out the combination right there, seeing where a bridge from one would overlap effortlessly into another. It’s a journey of discovery and labor of love, to be sure!”
What’s next for the Maestro after Rocktopia wraps up? His day jobs, to be exact, specifically with the Anchorage Symphony, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, and the Youngstown Symphony orchestras. And, also exploring his interest in doing a theatre piece of original music for a rock opera.
“I don’t see myself writing a hip-hop musical,” Fleischer joked. “I’m more of a classic rock kind of guy. All I know is I will give it my all. I don’t hold anything back. But, for now, I’m so unspeakably excited that something I co-created is on Broadway! The excitement of performing always sends a tingle up my spine. It gives me a thrill every performance.”
To get a taste of this new musical language, go to www.rocktopia.com for more information.