BWW Interview: Vocal Tips, Disney Tales and More from ROCK OF AGES Star CJ Eldred
One of the great tragedies of living in New York for any substantial amount of time is being forced to stand idly by as our beloved institutions shut down to make way for chain restaurants and high-rises. Dive bars, legit Italian joints, rock clubs, family-owned diners and bakeries and bodegas... one by one disappearing from view in favor of yet another Panera Bread or whatever new form of generic crap we allow to make our beloved city more closely resemble a strip mall in central California.
Speaking personally, one such staple is Rock of Ages which, interestingly, applies the above sentiment to the Sunset Strip 30 years in the past. The earth-shaking, face-melting ode to 1980s classic rock enjoyed a six year run on Broadway, an extremely difficult feat for a property not based on a famous movie or book and generally lacking any big-name celebrities on the roster.
It was never something I expected to become a die-hard fan of, with my tastes generally hovering between classic musicals and hardcore rap music. But once I finally paid a visit to the show's central "Bourbon Room," I was hooked. I was drawn to the seamless infusion of countless great songs into a clever, fun plot. I loved the silly, often lowbrow humor of a script that is expertly crafted and never takes itself or its characters too seriously. I marveled at the top-notch ensemble managing to sing these ridiculously difficult rock ballads eight times a week and making it look easy.
A visual and auditory feast, Rock of Ages became somewhat synonymous with Broadway to me, even while working a day job that allowed me to see literally every new show that came out for nearly a decade.
If a pal came to town, or if someone at the bar mentioned they had never been to a Broadway show, or if I simply had a free night and needed a guaranteed good time, this was my go-to choice for unbridled joy. The usual response from my non-theatre friends at the show's end was the following: "That was amazing, and we need to go to the strip club. NOW!"
Four grueling years after closing at the Helen Hayes Theatre, the show is back and the Bourbon Room is as much sexy fun as ever!
Having recently reopened at Off-Broadway's New World Stages for a limited run, this fresher-than-ever Rock of Ages just announced a 12-week extension that will see it rocking New York audiences through January 12, 2020.
Presiding over the company of rowdy rockers, sultry strippers, silly Germans and other necessary denizens of the Sunset Strip is a spectacular CJ Eldred in the central role of Drew. A relatively new face on the New York stage, Eldred delivers the perfect aw-shucks charm and soaring, clarion vocals needed by this boy next door with the soul of a heavy metal god.
Eldred took the time to help us get to know him a little bit. Pay attention, because I think we'll be seeing a lot more of this guy in years to come.
Since we haven't spoken before, tell me where you were born and raised. When did you get involved in theatre, and when did you first get the sense you might want to perform for a living?
So I was born and raised in Seattle. Go Seahawks! I started getting involved in theatre when I was in high school and pretty much immediately felt like it was something I could do for a living. I was playing Sky Masterson and I had never felt cooler.
What is your history with Rock of Ages? Had you seen a previous production? Were you a fan of this genre of music?
I had never seen the show or the movie before this production. I remember watching the Tony performance and being obsessed with everyone in it though. I grew up listening to all the music, and I must have sung every one of these song at a karaoke bar at least once. I definitely went through a phase in high school where all I listened to was 80s rock.
Talk to me a little bit about how this opportunity came about? What was the audition process like, and where were you when you learned you had booked the role?
Well, it started out pretty standard. My agents got me an appointment, then I had a couple callbacks and it all was going well. But then I had previous plans to fly out to L.A. to meet my girlfriend's family before going to Seattle for a production of West Side Story. So I was in Disneyland when I found out I had a final callback with producers.
I couldn't fly back to NYC, so I ended up filming my final in the living room of my girlfriend's parents house. Then I landed in Seattle to start the West Side Story contract, was at the first rehearsal, and was offered Drew. I felt awful dropping out last minute (because I LOVE the 5th Avenue Theatre and everyone there) but my agents and manager were just like, "you HAVE to take this job." So I did.
And now that the production is in full swing, how are you enjoying your time with Drew?
Oh my god, it's so FUN!! I love this show, but even more than that, I love this cast and crew. It's such an amazing group of people! And getting to sing this music everyday is just a dream come true.
What has been the most challenging part of this experience, and what has been the most fulfilling?
The most challenging part is definitely maintaining my vocal health. It's very demanding and I hold myself to a very high standard, which means drinking basically no alcohol, lots of sleep, hydration, and physical therapy.
The most fulfilling part is the audience. Bringing this kind of joy to people, seeing them sing along with the songs and have a great time every night is just the best.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Drew?
I LOVE the end of "Come On Feel The Noise." It's such a wonderful moment where Drew gets to just let loose and unleash his inner rock star. Having the band rock out with me and screaming my face off. Pretty hard to beat that.
Something I've always loved about the show is how well it balances silly humor with some incredibly legit, challenging vocals. How do you keep your voice healthy and keep the stamina up for 8 shows a week?
Oh man, like I said earlier, it's a tough job. I'm trying to get sponsored by My PurMist because I use their portable steamer before every show. But I also have water bottles hidden all over the stage to stay hydrated. And my speech pathologist gave me some great massages to keep my neck loose with all the head banging.
What are your personal favorite hair band songs of the 80s?
"Rock You Like A Hurricane," "Hot Blooded," "Jukebox Hero," "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Living on a Prayer."
If you could trade roles with anyone in the cast for a week, who would it be and why?
I would trade with Stacee Jaxx. He's got great songs, great jokes and a great bod.
For people somehow unfamiliar with Rock of Ages, sum up why they should come see the show!
Do you like having fun? Do you like rock and roll? Do you like listening to Warrant's "Cherry Pie" after speedballing two grams of crystal meth and a six pack of diet Shasta? Come see Rock of Ages.
Finally, I am writing this two days after the Broadway Blackout. What was YOUR evening like?
Oh man, well first we sang "Don't Stop Believing" for all the unfortunate souls that were out on the sidewalk unable to get into New World Stages. Then I had to walk from 50th street where the theatre is all the way to West 4th to catch a train to Brooklyn. All in all I would have much rather just done a show.
Rock of Ages continues at New World Stages through Jan. 12, 2020. For tickets and more info, visit rockofagesmusical.com.