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How Rocktopia brings rock, classical, and Broadway musicians together
Henry Aronson is a keyboardist and musical director with 30 years of Broadway credits. Tony Bruno is a guitarist and songwriter who has worked with Grammy Award-winning artists such as Enrique Iglesias, Rihanna, and Joan Jett. Although they usually inhabit different scenes, they're currently playing together onstage every night at the Broadway Theatre in Rocktopia, a high-energy concert that marries 20th-century rock with classical music.
Although Aronson admits that he and Bruno "come from different ends of the spectrum," this isn't the first time they've worked together. They met at Rock of Ages on Broadway, one of many rock musicals Aronson has done (The Who's Tommy, The Times They Are A-Changin', Good Vibrations to name a few). But Aronson, who plays piano for Rocktopia, says this show is a very different experience. "Those musicals were still very structured as in the notes on the page were written in stone and there wasn't much room for improv," he says. "I've done a lot of stuff where the band is onstage, but you're still waiting for the actor to say a cue. In this case, there is more input from all the musicians and playing off of the audience."
The brainchild of recording artists Rob Evan and Randall Craig Fleischer, Rocktopia blends iconic rock and classical compositions such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" with Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 - Allegretto". A rotating roster of big-name guest stars including Pat Monahan from Train and Robin Zander from Cheap Trick; five vocalists; a symphony orchestra; a rock band; and a choir perform the genre-busting numbers with a singleness of purpose. "The mission is to open people's ears a little bit to things they haven't heard before and point out that it's one world," says Aronson. "There are a lot of common threads."
Bruno concurs. "On certain songs, when I have to play some of the classical lines, it feels no different than playing an Aerosmith song," he says. "It's like this is a cool line and you want to dig into it. Similarities are being exposed."
Those similarities became especially apparently as Bruno, who serves as musical director, contemplated what material to add for Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, who guest stars from April 9 to 15. A YouTube search for heavy metal songs derived from classical pieces brought up more than 300 results!
That's a lot to choose from, and proves that the concept offers myriad possibilities for mash-ups. It's also why Bruno believes it's so important to have veterans from both genres collaborating on the show, like operatic soprano Alyson Cambridge wailing alongside The Voice finalist Kimberly Nichole. "Alyson brings this whole other aura to it that makes us all rise to the occasion," says Bruno. "And there are moments of it that are complete rock, especially when Kimberly is singing."
So is there anything about Rocktopia that is totally Broadway? According to Bruno, it's "not being able to be late. There isn't a rock concert that's ever gone on on time. Ever."
Top image: Tony Vincent and Tony Bruno in Rocktopia. Photos by Matthew Murphy.