BWW Reviews: Poop Jokes And White Snake Songs - ROCK OF AGES Opens at the McCallum Theatre
The McCallum Theatre kicked off its Broadway Series last night with the national tour of the wildly popular Jukebox Musical ROCKS OF AGES to a sell-out opening night crowd. The McCallum once again proved itself to be the near perfect road house for a musical – it is large enough to accommodate a big touring production with the intimacy of a Broadway house. ROCK OF AGES has a score that begs the audience to sing along --- in fact, many of the audience members did just that … sang along, in something akin to a Rocky Horror Picture Show experience – and the classic 80's tunes follow you out to the parking lot and for a good 24 hours beyond. The score is the best part of the show. The book is frivolous, formula and all too predictable with far, far too many "poop jokes" and "sexual innuendos" along the way, It is wall to wall 1980's kitsch --- similar to the other Broadway 80's throwback "The Wedding Singer". But "The Wedding Singer" does it much better.
The scenic and lighting elements sheer perfection – the use of a set of large LED screens above the action were the perfect compliment to the stylistic, static bi-level set. The rock band lives on a platform upstage and are as much a part of the show as an orchestration. Kelly Divine's choreography, re-created by Marcos Santana, is right on the money and one of the shining stars of the production. To say ROCK OF AGES is high energy is the understatement of 2012. It is almost manic in its very broad, highly overplayed style which, at times, does not serve the production well. The actors speak at such a frenetic pace that it is often difficult to follow the dialogue. The bits are overplayed almost to the point of annoying --- it would have been far more successful to "bring it all down a notch" and find a little more truth and humanity in the characters rather than it being just an overblown cartoon. ROCK OF AGES does not take itself seriously – after all it is a melodramatic plot we have all seen a million times before – but it is such high camp that by the end of act one the audience is craving a little reprieve from the excess.
Justin Colombo's Lonny, the show's narrator, is well suited for the over-the-top style of the production and he has a certain "sleezy charm" that is fun to watch. Dominique Scott's Drew is perfectly naïve and bumbling as he follows both his big dreams and his big heart and gave one of the stronger performances – both vocal and dramatic – in the ensemble. He is far better at the "crooning: numbers than the rock numbers and there were times I felt a few of his wailing pitches were questionable. Shannon Mullen's Sherrie was mesmerizing in the acting and dancing moments but she wasn't vocally up to the challenge of the rock score – she was pitchy and the nasality in her voice was sometimes a bit cloying. She is tasked with a lot of singing in the show and was stronger emotionally than vocally throughout. Meghan McHugh(Regina) and Stephen Michael Kane were loveable comic foils although many of Kane's lines were lost in his high pitched german dialect. Matt Han turned in a great performance as Dennis and was a solid anchor in the high tornado-like energy of the show. I do realize this is a fluff show – and it is meant to make fun of itself – but at times the corny factor had everyone in my row squirming and praying that the comic bits would give way to another song sooner than later. Director Kristen Hanggi obviously does not believe in subtle.
The ensemble vocals were fantastic. In fact, the ensemble was pretty fantastic. Major props to Ethan Popp's vocal direction. When the entire cast was assembled onstage singing the theatre was electric! When they weren't it was a mixed bag. The only real negative was the sound mix. The band way over-powered most of the lead vocalists and it was difficult to understand the lyrics in most of the songs and god-forbid you were supposed to hear any dialogue that had underscoring. The lighting was spectacular and fit the production like a glove.
All in all, a really fun and frivolous evening at The McCallum. I just wish it hadn't all been shtick. Chris D'Arienzo's book is not Shakespeare – nor is it meant to be – but I think a little more careful direction might have made a better show. I look forward to the balance of the Broadway Series at The McCallum and hats off to Mitch Gerschenfeld for presenting such eclectic fare for desert theatergoers. For more information on The McCallum Theatre visit www.mccallumtheatre..com.