Sat 10/20 @ 8PM
Neil Zaza loves holiday celebrations.
For nearly two decades the Akron guitar hero has entertained audiences with his Yuletide jam “One Silent Night…” Now Zaza is venturing into Halloween fun with “One Dark Night…,” which makes its debut October 20 at the Akron Civic Theatre.
“Really, it all started a while ago in about 2000,” Zaza said. “I did some demos for some classical material that I wanted to record with an orchestra for a special project, which never came to fruition. I kept the demos around and they became what the musical content of ‘One Dark Night…’ is today.
“The feel for the selection of the music was a gothic, heavy vibe that would translate really nicely over to a rock context with the guitar taking the main melody and parts.”
It wasn’t until a few years ago when Zaza performed Camille Saint-Saëns’ wicked-sounding “Danse Macabre” with the Akron Symphony Orchestra that the Halloween show idea emerged, tied around the old demos.
From there, Zaza reached out to orchestrator and violinist David Kempers (Yes, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, R.E.M.), who started working on the project. Also, the Akron Civic Theatre was interested in the ghoulish musical idea. A year later, the “One Dark Night…” material was written with Zaza champing at the bit for its debut.
“I feel really strongly that this is one of the most creative projects I’ve ever done,” Zaza said. “The process of the project was actually very easy. Choosing the appropriate classical pieces was really fun as there are so many pieces that are just begging to be reimagined in a rock context.
“Once those selections were made, the rest went really fast. I would sketch out the arrangements of the pieces with the band and give those to Kempers to do orchestrations on. We’d go back and forth a few times and it would be locked in.”
Rehearsal for “One Dark Night…” began this past spring with both Zaza and Kempers upping the ante, choosing rigor and complexity over mainstream accessibility.
“We really wanted something special musically,” Zaza said. “I can easily say that this is the most difficult music I’ve ever played in any context. I’ve actually had to practice hard for this show, which is and at the same time is not a Halloween show.
“The story focuses on (the idea) that the classic Hollywood monsters that we know and love may not be the monsters at all. The true monster is within each of us trying to escape. It really is a deep philosophical look at human nature and the darkness that resides in us all.”
With that narrative, Zaza is hoping “One Dark Night…,” which includes an orchestra, choir, stage props and huge video wall, will transcend being a holiday celebration and instead play year-round.
“It’s so beyond anything that I have ever done with ‘One Silent Night…’” Zaza said. “And not just musically, but presentation as well.”
And there is it. While diehard fans may look forward to Zaza’s annually sold-out Christmas show, the guitarist and musical visionary is stepping away from “One Silent Night…”
“I realize that if I ever went back to ‘One Silent Night…,’ I’d have to retool everything to get it to the level that ‘One Dark Night…’ is at,” Zaza said. “People will be blown away with what they experience at this show versus what they have seen from me in the past.
“So I’ll be focusing all of my time and efforts on this for a while. ‘One Silent Night…’ had a great run, but it’s time for something totally different. As a musician and artist, I have to look at new, fresh approaches that inspire me. I never want to give a worn-out performance to someone paying good money to see me.”