John-Michael Breen, Katie LaMark, Anthony Nuccio, ROCK OF AGES National Tour - Jeremy Daniel, 2018
Rock of Ages, onstage now at DPAC under the direction of Martha Banta, is described by its fourth-wall-breaking, jazz-hand-loving narrator or, as he would say, “dramatic conjurer,” Lonny (John-Michael Breen), as an “evening of musical decadence and debauchery.” And, it must be said that this jukebox musical fully lives up to Lonny’s description in every possible way.
From the moment the musical opens with a rendition of “Cum On Feel the Noize” to the super-fun closing song, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Every worry will get cast away as viewers shamelessly lose themselves in this irreverent production that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself.
Set in the mid-1980s (with the clothes and hair to prove it) and featuring popular rock hits of that era, the story here takes a backseat to the music…and the writer knows it. In fact, writer Chris D’Arienzo even goes so far as to pick on the quality of his own writing within the script. He knows, just as the audience does, that, while the story is fun, it’s really just a vehicle for the fabulous musical numbers. With that said, however, the little love story (and the side stories) that is woven throughout is well-acted and immersing in spite of- or maybe because of- its silliness.
Taking the lead here is Sherrie (Katie LaMark), a Tiffany-lookalike with a sweet voice, sweet delivery, and a bubbly attitude that can turn wonderfully raunchy in a second. LaMark is fabulous in her role, pulling out all the stops and making Sherrie a character viewers will root for. Her love interest is wannabe-rockstar Drew, endearingly portrayed by Anthony Nuccio. The pair shares a natural chemistry that make them fun to watch onstage, and their portrayals are made even more fun by Breen's hilarious interjections in his role as Lonny.
The major obstacle to the couple's love, however, is Drew’s inability to accurately express his feelings and, then, of course, there’s rockstar Stacee Jaxx, hilariously portrayed by Sam Harvey. Harvey warbles and wiggles his hips to create a conceited total-douchebag character that viewers will love to hate. His delivery of “I Want to Know What Love Is,” as he “canoodles” with Sherrie in a grungy bar bathroom is one of the funniest moments in the show. In fact, this scene is perfect, down to the grubby writing on the set walls and the hilarious, sexually-infused choreography.
This, however, is just one of many great numbers. Other standouts include “Wanted Dead or Alive” and the pitch-perfect first-act closer, complete with the aforementioned jazz hands, “Here I Go Again.” Within these songs and in other numbers throughout, the backing of a perfect supporting cast helps immensely. Ryan M. Hunt stands out in his role as bar-owner Dennis, while Kenya Hamilton makes a perfect Justice, the woman who owns the club where Sherrie will eventually work.
Aside from the amazing music and a strong cast, also outstanding here is the creative use of settings and movement for songs, often in unexpected ways. The well-choreographed “Any Way You Want It” routine, for example, is set against the background of a sultry-but-seedy strip club- a subversive choice but one that, like many, works amazingly well here.
Iconic music, killer costumes, and amazing performances all add up to, as the characters would say, a production that is totally bitchin’. And, what’s even more “bitchin’” was the diversity of the crowd at Friday night’s opening night performance. Young teenagers, older adults decked out in their best rocker gear, and even one guy who claimed he’d “never set foot in a theatre if not for this show” were every bit as energized and excited as the cast. In fact, the feel-good energy in the room was palpable, so much so that it was impossible to leave without a smile on your face. Anyone who needs a little lift or just to be reminded of the lighter side of life is sure to have a blast with this stellar musical.
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