"Rock of Ages" Can't Stop the Best
Broadway SD will rock your socks off with a pulse-pounding, electrifying homage to the 80’s
By Donnie Matsuda
By modern day musical standards, Rock of Ages doesn’t do anything right.
The tribute to the 80’s musical boasts a paper-thin plot, features one-dimensional low-brow characters who are much more rockstar casual than musical theatre refined, and tops it all off with a score that evokes nostalgia with its recognizable radio tunes that do little to further its plot. But in spite of itself, the jagged pieces of the Rock of Ages puzzle somehow come together brilliantly to create a hilarious and highly entertaining jukebox musical that raises the rafters with its soaring guitar licks, heart-pounding drumming, and layers upon layers of blazing, ball-busting pop infused rock. So, if you're a big fan of vintage rock and don’t want to miss this totally rad musical trip down memory lane, get yourself down to the San Diego Civic Theatre, where the Rock of Ages national tour is currently rocking the house for a short time, now until April 1st.
The barely-there book by Chris D’Arienzo and the spine-tingling score (which borrows some of the greatest songs of the 80’s by iconic rockers Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, and Whitesnake) should totally work against the success of the show. However, it is because of these elements that Rock of Ages works so well as its brazenly self-aware characters and hokey script are more than endearing enough to fuel the tuneful, sing-along-with-your-favorite-hits score. And at the end of the day, that’s really why we’re all there: to soak in the rock concert vibe, raise our hands in the air, and bounce to the beat of one chart-topping tune after the next.
And who doesn’t love a predictable 80’s romance? This one is between big-city dreamer and wannabe rockstar Drew Boley and small-town girl turned aspiring actress Sherrie Christian (and yes, both Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” and Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” feature prominently in the show’s playlist of iconic 80’s hits). These two bright-eyed youngsters fortuitously meet in L.A.’s most legendary rock club, The Bourbon Room, and suddenly, they want to know what love is. Sure, there are some minor complications thrown in for good measure (and to provide more excuses to insert more hit songs), but do we really think that a sleazy fling with Arsenal superstar Stacee Jaxx or the threat of gentrification by a German father-and-son development team will halt this made-up-for-the-musical romance? Don’t stop believing, people.
As rocker Drew, Dominique Scott brings a fresh face and some powerful pipes to the “innocent boy makes good” role. He is blessed with a soaring tenor that cuts through both his beautiful ballads and his angst-ridden anthems with an equal amount of fire and ice. Not only does he dazzle with his vocal pyrotechnics (which include some impressive solo riffs and soaring sustained notes), but he also adds some much needed-nuance to an otherwise bland and boring character. As his love interest Sherrie, Shannon Mullen delights with a perfect rocker-chic look and makes her transition from bright eyed ingénue to sassy stripper to wholesome leading lady as convincing as she possibly can. She’s also got one heck of a voice that imbues her bluesy ballads with a vibrant tone, and she fearlessly goes full force in her powerhouse duets with Drew, matching her man in both power and pizzazz.
In supporting roles, Justin Colombo is a hoot as the all-knowing show narrator Lonnie (he reads a book titled “Musicals for Dummies” and schools us on the appropriate use of “jazz hands”) while Matt Ban puts his droll deadpan to good use as club owner Dennis. When these two men can’t fight their feelings anymore and indulge in a full-fledged on-stage bromance over a fog machine, the show’s silly shenanigans reach an all-time high (or is it low?). And not to be upstaged in the camp department, Stephen Michael Kane really hams it up as the hair-tossing, lithe leaping, not-gay-but-just-German Franz, while Katie Postotnik nails the role of hippie protestor Regina (pronounced Reg-eye-na).
Director Adam John Hunter (who adapts Kristin Hanggi’s original direction for this tour) doesn’t miss a beat in his brisk staging and he keeps the energy high and the volume turned up so that his high-octane show has plenty of juice for its action-packed two and a half hours. And choreographer Marcos Santana (who recreates Kelly Devine’s original work here) amps up the energy with some incredibly erotic moves delivered with pulse-pounding panache by a talented ensemble of strippers, rockers, and free-spirited protestors.
In the design department, wig master Tom Watson keeps the hair as high as the sky while costumer Gregory Gale keeps everyone looking, like, totally 80’s in their outrageously colorful and outlandishly retro fashion fads. And set designer Beowulf Boritt captures the grungy look of The Bourbon Room and the surrounding streets of the Sunset Strip with his serviceable single set design that is greatly aided by some splashy projections created by Zak Borovay. Last but not least, lighting designer Jason Lyons blasts the stage with an impressive lighting grid filled with bold, eye blinding colors and special effects that enhance the show’s rock concert vibe, while sound designer Craig Cassidy tries to keep the dialogue heard above the roar of the show’s rock band (which doesn’t always happen).
But all these technical elements take a back seat to what truly powers this exhilarating musical revival: the over two–dozen legendary rock hits from the 80’s that are as timeless as they are tuneful. Here, these 31 songs are given truncated versions, but music director Darren Ledbetter and his totally radical five piece band (with mad props to guitar soloist Chris Cicchino) render the well-orchestrated and explosive score with all the power and passion it demands.
So, even if you’re only a moderate fan of 80’s rock or if (like me) you are too young to remember what the era was all about, you’re still guaranteed to have a rocking good time. That’s probably because Rock of Ages is a musical that knows exactly what it is and is so sure of itself, it unabashedly takes all the bad elements of a modern musical and does a bang up job of turning them into one highly entertaining night of theatre. The final product is, in the words of legendary rocker Poison, “Nothin’ But A Good Time.”
Things to know before you go: Rock of Ages presented by Broadway San Diego plays at The San Diego Civic Theatre at 3rd and B Street through April 1, 2012. Running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Ticket prices vary. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit TicketMaster.com, call (888) 937-8995, or visit www.BroadwaySD.com.