BWW Reviews: Broadway Tour of ROCK OF AGES Brings Epic Rock Musical to PPAC
It seems that since the dawn of the new millennium, there has been an incredible surge in the appearance of new "jukebox musicals." This genre is comprised of shows made up of previously recorded and released songs, usually by a single band or artist, or connected to a specific theme. While there were a few of these in the late 1900's, the genre took off once the clock turned to 2000. Now, theaters are filled with them, showcasing the music of anyone from Billy Joel to Queen to Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. After seeing the touring production of the jukebox musical Rock of Ages at Providence Performing Arts Center, it's hard to imagine that anything in the genre is as exciting, fun and perfectly pieced together as this spectacular musical combination of the glam-band hits of the late 1980s.
Rock of Ages focuses on one particular fictional club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. It's called The Bourbon Room and it's a place where many a rock 'n' roll career was born. It's also a place where, now, in 1987, foreign developers are taking over, buying up land and turning everything into big box stores and fast food chains (there's a hilarious running gag involving Arby's). It's up to our band of rock misfits, including the club owner, an aspiring rock musician who works there as a busboy and his love interest, a small-town girl from Kansas with big dreams, to save the club and, perhaps, save all of rock 'n' roll.
Whether or not the club will be saved in the end is never really in doubt, but getting there is a joyous ride filled with every one of your favorite rock songs of the era. Included are artist like Pat Benetar, Foreigner, Poison, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Journey, and Bon Jovi. Familiar titles include "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Here I Go Again," "We're Not Gonna Take It," and "Don't Stop Believing," among many more. For many, if not most, audience members, these are more than familiar tunes from the radio. They are important songs from the soundtrack of our lives.
Just as important as the music is the story and the script. Unlike some jukebox musicals, this show has a surprisingly well-written and spot-on book by Chris D'Arienzo. There are laugh-out-loud moments of hilarity and also quiet, tender moments that are truthful and touching. We actually get to know and love the characters, who are instantly sympathetic and relatable. And while they do fill certain stereotypes (rock-god, small-town girl, etc.) they are more than that, they are often fully realized human beings.
That success is helped to a great degree by the uniformly brilliant and brilliantly talented cast. Leading the way is Dominique Scott as Drew, the busboy who dreams of rock stardoM. Scott has an more-than-impressive voice and he gets to blow the roof off the theater at least two or three times. He's also got an astounding amount of stage presence and charisma, while being instantly likeable. He has an equal in Shannon Mullen, playing his love interest, that Kansas small-town girl, Sherrie. Mullen has a gorgeous voice and she pulls off the intimate acting moments, both drama and comedy, just as well as she does the moments of powerhouse vocals.
Running The Bourbon Room is Brian Ashton Miller as Dennis and Andrew Sklar as Lonny. The two of them make a fantastic onstage pair, whether it's their wonderful duet in Act 2 or just the banter of two lifelong rock 'n' roll devotees and friends. Sklar deserves special mention for his performance of Lonny, who is also the musical's narrator. He brings such joy to every moment, he's lovable and fun to watch, as he sort of guides the plot along, with a grin and a wink to the audience. While breaking the fourth wall can be overdone or just done poorly, it's perfectly achieved in this show. There's just the right amount of reference to or interaction with the audience, mostly from Lonny, our lovable narrator.
Really, the entire ensemble is fantastic, except maybe for Joshua Hobbs as Stacee Jaxx. While Hobbs has the looks and talent, he's just not believable as the all-time rock god who Jaxx is supposed to be. Other than that, the cast fills their roles perfectly, from Jessica Pucek as Regina, the hippie protester trying to save The Bourbon Room, to Tanner Hussar, the son of the German developer trying to destroy it. Every one of the dancer/singers in the ensemble is amazing and clearly having a ton of fun doing this show. While these kinds of tours, with short stays in cities along the way, can be grueling, this cast seems to find endless amounts of energy, joy and fun while they are on stage, which makes the experience even better for the audience.
At PPAC, that experience was clearly a highly positive one for the every audience member. Throughout the show, people were standing up, waving their arms, clapping and singing along with the familiar songs. At the show's end, during the final number and cast bows, every audience member who wasn't standing gave in and got on their feet. It was an electric and exciting atmosphere to be part of, a collective outpouring of pure rock 'n' roll bliss. It's the kind of experience that likely happens in every theater when this epic rock musical rolls into town.
Rock of Ages was a one-night-only performance at Providence Performing Arts Center. For more upcoming events at PPAC, see their website, www.ppacri.org.