BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES is Nothin' But a Good Time at Omaha Community Playhouse!
There's a party at the Bourbon Room and you're invited. Get out that 1980's gear you've got stuffed in the back of your closet and head over to ROCK OF AGES. This show is the most fun I've had in a long while! I've seen it on Broadway and more recently in Las Vegas, but the Omaha Community Playhouse production is not only on par, it exceeds them both in heart and personality. I liked it more.
ROCK OF AGES, nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical, is a big hair, big heart story loosely woven through the familiar hits of the 1980's. It revolves around Drew and Sherrie, two young people who long to make it in the entertainment business. Drew works in a lounge on the Sunset Strip and looks for a chance to rock the stage rather than sweep it. Sherrie gets off the bus in LA with her suitcase and dreams of landing a part in the movies. Drew and Sherrie kindle an uncertain love affair, neither willing to be the first to admit their feelings. German investor, Hertz Kinemann and his son Franz arrive at the Mayor's office, intending to mow down the Strip and turn it into something more aesthetically and financially pleasing. City planner Regina (it's pronounced Reh JINE Ah) goes into action to mobilize protestors against the takeover while owner of the Bourbon Room, Dennis Dupree, plots with his assistant Lonny to book the band Arsenal with rock star Stacee Jaxx for their last big gig in order to boost sales.
This musical is a vocal Olympics with songs from rock icons like Journey, Pat Benatar, and Whitesnake. It's high and it's full voiced. It's a challenge for anyone. This cast pulls it off. David Ebke (Drew) belts out the numbers like a pro. He not only surprises as he hits those crazy notes, he pleases in the softer numbers. Mallory Vallier (Sherrie) powers it out with a sweetly melodious voice. Sara Mattix impresses as Justice with big bold sound. Samantha Quintana sings Regina's songs of protest with conviction and ridiculously great control. ...And wow! Jana Coburn (Waitress #1). Where did you come from?
These talented vocalists couldn't do it without an excellent orchestra, which is directed by Jim Boggess. The orchestra doesn't just sit in the pit playing background, it performs live on stage as the Bourbon Room's band.
Adam Hogston (Lonny) is a naughty narrator, but he is nice. He talks to the audience as if we are all there in the Bourbon Room with him, and is so congenial, we feel as if we've been friends for years. I appreciate Director Kimberly Faith Hickman's decision to tone down the normally very raunchy humor of this musical with a tamer version. Hogston is funny, not foul.
Ebke delights as Drew. Not only can he sing vocally challenging songs with little effort, he gives his character sweetness and humility, with a touch of humor. Ebke runs the gamut from understated floor sweeper to insecure love-smitten boy to full out rocker.
Vallier is perfection as a small town girl looking for her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her innocence is charming. She says what she thinks, "It smells like rock...and urine," except when it comes to expressing her feelings about Drew. Her talent is undeniable, except when it comes to pole dancing. Her character elicits compassion and fondness. You want to protect her, but you admire her for her tenacity.
Ebke and Vallier have palpable chemistry between them. You hope they don't fight the feeling, they stop searching, and that they keep on loving.
Nick LeMay (Stacee Jaxx) presents a mix of true talent and overinflated rock star ego. He is his own biggest fan. LeMay draws laughs with his uncertainty followed by bursts of self-aggrandizement. LeMay has some of the toughest songs and he handles them well.
Quintana plays her activist character with just the right touch of toughness and purpose. She has a cause and the drive to see it through. Quintana's comedic ability makes Regina not only assertive, it gives you a glimpse of a softer person beneath the tough exterior.
Gilmore is an old rocking, pot smoking Dennis dressed in leather fringe. He is affable, rather than hard-nosed. His solos are really good! When he partners with Hogston in their duet, the pair gives me goose bumps.
Dance Captain Carmen Butler, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, is the dancing queen. She moves so well, so fluidly, that she is spellbinding. She leads a fun ensemble of colorfully clad dancing ladies.
With all this wonderful singing and dancing taking place, we could be sent home happy and humming those great hits. But when Joey Galda (Hertz Klinemann) and Paul Hanson (Franz Klinemann) show up in their pink shirts, we are at a new level. They nearly takeover the show as they try to takeover the Strip. With their German accents and hilarious antics, Galda and Hanson are side splitters (and great singers!) The biggest laughs and applause of the night went to Hanson for his "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," along with Galda and Quintana.
ROCK OF AGES has something for everyone: unforgettable music that will have the audience singing along, outrageous fashions from the 80's (dress accordingly, theater goers!), and comedy that will have you spitting out your drink. The stage is colorful. The characters spill into the aisles. The sound, with a couple of minor microphone glitches, is really good. The audience is drawn in in every way possible. It's fun. Just fun.
Photo credit: Colin Conces