“It’s pretty exciting to be asked to be part of this thing,” says Dee Snider about participating in the “Rocktopia” tour, which comes to BergenPAC in Englewood, Oct. 18. “I did the week on Broadway, as did a few other of my peers, and I’ve been asked to return and do more shows with them, and that is really flattering.”
Making its debut in 2016 when the PBS special “Rocktopia: Live From Budapest” was recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience, this brainchild of Rob Evans (“Les Misérables,” “Jekyll & Hyde,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer has been called “electrifying” and “spine-tingling” by critics.
A concert that meets the symphony and the opera and pays tribute to “musical innovators across the centuries,” “Rocktopia” features the music of Journey, Mozart, Queen, Beethoven, Aerosmith, Handel, Led Zeppelin, Tchaikovsky, U2, Heart, Puccini and more. But Snider wants all to know that this show bucks the trends of today.
“The orchestra with rock ‘n’ roll has now been officially done to death,” says Snider, best known as the frontman of Twisted Sister. “This is very different. It mixes classical with classic rock. You’ve seen Metallica with a symphony orchestra and it’s not that. You’ve got great opera singers, great Broadway singers and me, a rock singer, with a choir and an orchestra and 50 pieces up there and a rock band, and we’re doing both, and there’s a lot of mash-ups, which is really interesting. So it is different than what has been done before and it’s very compelling, actually.
“As Rob Evans, the co-creator, says, ‘Imagine a party where you walk in and at that same party are Bach and Beethoven and Freddie Mercury and Robert Plant.’ And they all deserve to be in that same room because they all have their place in the hierarchy of music. Rock ‘n’ roll has earned its place at that table, and this show speaks loudly to that.
“I want to stress to people that it’s not rock music with an orchestra. This is different and it’s an education for those who lean towards the classical and those who lean towards the rock stuff. This shows that both of these need to be respected; they are both worth your time.”
In 2016, a 20-city U.S. tour was followed by a limited Broadway engagement, which is where Snider first brought his “unknown” talents to the forefront.
“When I walk out onstage, the first song I sing is ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ and there’s an audible gasp from the audience when I open my mouth and I’m not screaming,” he said, with a laugh. “I just start singing in a very Robert Plant voice, ‘There’s a lady who’s sure …,” and people go, ‘Ah, he can sing!’ That was one of the things when after every show you go outside and sign autographs and one of the biggest comments is, ‘I didn’t know that you could sing.’ ‘What do you think I’ve been doing with Twisted Sister?’ I mean, those in the know, know that I’m capable of doing more.”
Although those initial Broadway appearances were his first with this production, Snider is no stranger to the bright lights. “I was in ‘Rock of Ages,’ which was an actual Broadway musical,” he said. “This is a Broadway concert experience. So for me, this was a bit of a return. I got bitten by that bug and, fortunately, the community was very welcoming to me.”
In addition to performing in “Rocktopia,” Snider has a solo record that has ascended up the metal charts.
“I’m doing shows with that, in between, but this is a whole different gear, a whole different mindset — to go out and do ‘Rocktopia’ — and it’s a challenge. When they called me and offered me the gig in the first place, I was like, ‘I’ve never sang a ballad onstage, ever.’ A ballad means standing still and I don’t stand still. So for me to just go out and stand there and have to just sing and be judged on the voice alone was really challenging. … I mean, I knew that I could, but knowing and executing are two different things.”
Snider being Snider is what audiences look for. In a production that has a five-piece rock band, a 30-member choir and a 20-piece orchestra, along with opera and Broadway vocalists, is that possible?
Well, not only is it possible, but it is now expected as Snider does his best to bring an edge to every performance.
“It’s not an acting thing. Of course, there’s a rehearsal with a full choir and orchestral. The stage is very crowded — it’s a big stage and still very crowded. There’s a lot of preparation to get all of those ducks in a row and have everything coming out right, but it’s an experience that I am so excited to get a chance to be a part of.
“They had Pat Monahan from Train do a couple of weeks (on Broadway) and Robin Zander (of Cheap Trick) did a week and they brought me in for a week, and while I wanted to go in there and do the best job that I could, I also wanted to add something. And an audience member after the show said to me, ‘I saw the show with Pat Monahan and he was great, but you brought the dirty.’ And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ (laughs). She went on to say that rock ‘n’ roll has got some attitude, rock ‘n’ roll is the bad boy in the room, and Pat is a great singer but he’s very legit and you brought some swagger. And I was glad to bring that swagger.
“As a matter of fact, I brought that swagger backstage in a big way. After my first night, I go on after a singer named Chloe Lowery and she crushes it. What a fucking voice! She sings ‘Alone’ by Heart; she outsings Ann Wilson and Ann Wilson created it. So I have to go on after her and sing ‘Stairway.’ So I’m waiting to go on and she’s just blowing the place up. So as they start playing my intro, I walk over to the side stage and she’s coming off and I say, ‘Chloe, fuck you!’ Chloe’s face dropped and I go off and sing my song and later she comes over to me and says, ‘Dee, what did I do wrong?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, that was my highest compliment. That meant that you put me in a position where I had to go on after that.’ And to me that’s what it’s about. Everybody going out there and going for blood, and that pushes me to be better, so I meant that as a compliment. So by the end of the week, everybody in the cast and crew were screaming ‘Fuck you’ at everybody. The opera singer: ‘Dee, fuck you’ (laughs).
“So like I said, I brought the dirty but everybody is amazing at what they do. Look at Rob’s credentials, Alyson Cambridge (‘Madame Butterfly,’ ‘La Bohème’), the opera singer’s credentials. These people are in the biggest shows in New York. Everybody earned their place there, and every night they’re giving it their all. It’s amazing.”
Although Snider moved to the West Coast a while back, he still considers the New York area home. Does this alter his approach?
“It’s always great to be home,” he says. “And when you’re from the Tri-state Area, there’s a certain attitude and that doesn’t go away because I may be in a more gentle environment. I’m going from screaming my lungs out on my new record, For the Love of Metal, which is mind-numbingly aggressive and heavy, to singing sweet as a bird on ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ And hopefully I do them all equally as well.”
For more about Rocktopia, visit rocktopia.com.
For more about Snider, visit deesnider.com.