BWW Reviews: ROCK OF AGES at Bank of America Theatre ... Well, Rocks
ROCK OF AGES at the Bank of America Theatre opened last night to an enthusiastic, packed house.
With Music & Lyrics by rock luminaries such as Bon Jovi, Journey, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar, it was hard not to get swept up in the evening.
The show centers on a soon-to-be-demolished rock club known as "The Bourbon Room", circa 1987, where two young lovers ("Sherrie" and "Drew") meet, new to LA and in search of fame and fortune. The plot unfolds much as you might expect, but the story (let's face it, we're all grownups) is really not the reason we're all there. We're there for 80s rock songs we all know and love, and ...you know, the abs and "guns". (It doesn't hurt, fitness-wise, that absolutely none of these cast members are old enough to remember the actual 80s.)
With anthems like "Wanted Dead or Alive", "Nothin' But a Good Time", and "Don't Stop Believin'" ... it was pretty much impossible to get out of there without having a "good time", indeed.
There were several fine performances from the cast, but before I get into those, it seems only right to give primary credit for this rock extravaganza the Rock of Ages Band, and Craig Cassidy's brilliant sound design. The Band, largely in the background but omnipresent, is comprised of Paul Wiley, Maddox, Bones Elias, Rigo Flores and Marshall Keating, who flawlessly performed a nearly 3-hour rock tribute - making it look at once effortless, studied, and edgy. Their musicianship (and attitude) was admirable, and I spent a good chunk of time just watching them (though usually the action in front was flashier and more brightly costumed). They chewed gum, flicked guitar picks, and flipped each other off... everything you'd expect from a band, short of downing a bottle of Jack Daniels and passing out. Then, when their cues came, they answered with a series of face-melting 80s classics I'm sure they're all too cool to actually enjoy. Thankfully, the Rock of Ages Band gets a little time front-and-center at the end of the show - which, in my opinion, could have gone on much, much longer.
As for the cast, Andrew Sklar as "Lonny" gave one of the most memorable performances I've seen in a long time. At once lude, crude, and Shakespearean, Sklar shines in his role as the story's comic narrator. And the bromance between he and "Dennis" (the Bourbon Room's owner, played with Will Ferrell-esque aplomb by Brian Ashton Miller) is a thing of beauty. Young lovers "Sherrie" and "Drew" (portrayed by Shannon Mullen and Dominique Scott) both had excellent rock voices, powerful and versatile - and their love story, against a backdrop of cartoonish debauchery, was portrayed with a surprising amount of honesty and heart. Their date scene (overlooking downtown LA, talking & drinking wine coolers) was nearly perfect; I'm sure many of us in the audience were transported back through time to that devastating moment when the first one we fancied called us their "friend".
Another stand-out performance was Joshua Hobbs as "Stacee Jaxx", the sexier-than-thou, rhinestone rocker Drew idolizes. Hobbs' swagger was at once smokin' and hysterical, as he charmed the pants (literally) off of Sherrie, to the devastation of shy, smitten Drew. It's not that we're happy, exactly, when Stacee gets his comeuppance at the end... it's just that we pretty much saw it coming, and it's a comically fitting end involving a sombrero, rather than a darker and more realistic route involving rehab and/or jail. And though there are several other top-notch performances, I would be remiss if I did not mention Tanner Hussar as "Franz". With his over-the-top swish and faux-German accent, Hussar brings the house down on several occasions, including an unforgettable homage to jazzercise that still has me giggling.
While Gregory Gale's costumes and Jason Lyon's lighting were both fine, Beowulf Boritt's set design really stands out. The main "Bourbon Room" where we spend the bulk of our time looks exactly as it should: that every single inch of it is a tetanus shot waiting to happen. The choreography by Kelly Devine was pretty predictable, much like an 80s music video starring Tawny Kitaen... although when the aforementioned Lonny-Dennis Bromance blossoms, we see Devine's true brilliance. Director Kristin Hanggi's pacing was perfect, and she staged the ending (and it's lovely little message) beautifully.
For the most part, ROCK OF AGES works. There are a few shabbily thrown-together "plot points", but the pacing of these scenes is such that you barely have time to register just how shallowly constructed they are. Plus, on some level you realize (and accept) that the plot is just a devise, a stepping-stone to get us to the next joke, 80s hair or beverage reference, and (thank you, lord above) rollicking good fun piece of music.
In the end, ROCK OF AGES makes you want to stand up, put your hands together, and enjoy that weird, wonderful nostalgia that comes with 80s rock music and flashing your index-and-pinkie-finger devil horns. My advice? Don't Stop Believin', and go.
ROCK OF AGES runs at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago through March 16th.
ROCK OF AGES
CHRIS D'ARIENZO (Book)
KRISTIN HANGGI (Director)
KELLY DEVINE (Choreographer)
ADAM JOHN HUNTER (Direction Re-Created By)
MARCOS SANTANA (Choreography Re-Created By)
ETHAN POPP (Music Supervisor, Orchestrations, Arrangements)
DARREN LEDBETTER (Music Director)
PHOENIX ENTERTAINMENT (Producer)