Here I Go Again! BWW Interviews ROCK OF AGES Superfan Abe Calimag on His 500th Show
ROCK OF AGES superfan Abe Calimag recently attended his 500th performance of the long-running 80's-inspired Broadway musical. In honor of the event, ROA producer Matthew Weaver took to the show's official Facebook site to rave, "CONGRATULATIONS to Abe Calimag on attending his 500th Rock of Ages show today at the Matinee!! We are incredibly appreciative of his support and dedication! Rock of Ages was built on the passion from the fans and just can't thank Abe enough! Have a blast tonight. Incredible!" HIgh praise indeed!
Today, Calimag speaks exclusively with BWW about his most memorable stage door experiences, the wide variety of actors he has seen take on these iconic roles and his own personal reflections on the 500 performances he has attended throughout the years.
Can you recall your very first time seeing Rock of Ages? Did you know right away that it was something special that you were going to return to over and over again? What was it about the show that made you feel that way?
I saw the show for the first time on July 1, 2009. I had wanted to see Amy Spanger (Sherrie), but she had officially departed a few days prior, so I was prepared to be disappointed. Just entering the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, hearing the pre-show music, and feeling the vibe, I knew I was in for something different. I don't know if it was when Katherine Tokarz (Constance Sack) first walked on the stage or when Ericka Hunter (swing/Waitress #1) opened the Venus Club door, but I quickly became hooked on the show.
I wasn't much into 80s rock - I'm more of an 80s college alternative/new wave fan, The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, etc, but I certainly knew every song in the show. I loved the mash-ups and new arrangements of the songs and the way they were used to actually help tell the story - they weren't just filler or a random collection of greatest hits. The plot is simple, but sweet, and the book is hilarious. The performances were fantastic, and Constantine (Drew) and Savannah Wise (Sherrie) blew me away. I returned as soon as I could, which was the following Monday, July 6th and the next evening as well.
You've seen a variety of actors playing these roles throughout the years. Do you have any personal favorites?
Of course the original Broadway cast, with Savannah in place of Amy Spanger, since I never saw her, and Ericka
My favorite Sherrie is Cordelia Farnworth, who is currently Sherrie on the UK Tour. She was a swing in the original West End cast, and she was the first Sherrie that I ever saw in London. She has the perfect blend of sweet innocent naiveté and heart-stopping sexiness, coupled with the voice of an angel. She also happens to be one of my favorite Reginas along with Zizi Strallen, former West End Constance Sack and Regina understudy. I love seeing the versatility of understudies and swings, and among my favorite swings have been Cordelia Farnworth, Ericka Hunter, Holly Laurent (First National Tour, NCL Breakaway, and Las Vegas), and Tony LePage (Toronto and Broadway).
What do you think it is about Rock of Ages that has kept it going on Broadway for such a long run?
I think that Rock of Ages has become a world-wide brand. The runs in Toronto, Australia, London, two US tours spanning four years, and elsewhere have generated interest around the globe. Many people miss their local production, and perhaps others missed out when the tour came to their city, so for many, Rock of Ages is a destination in New York - they go to recapture the great night out they had in their hometowns. And although the movie is significantly different than the stage show, it at least has boosted the name recognition. Tourists who may not know much about Broadway or people who may be looking to see their first Broadway show may be aware of the Rock of Ages name and take a chance on it.
Rock of Ages also appeals to the masses - especially to young, straight men that may not be "into theatre" and may not have any interest in any other show on Broadway. The music has a built-in appeal, and everyone in the cast is absolutely gorgeous to look at. And although Rock of Ages is definitely not a family show, it has a fun rock concert-y feel that may appeal to more mature youngsters - mom and dad can bring their age-appropriate children to the show and may leave with a bond strengthened by the shared experience.
Internally, Rock of Ages has had some stellar casting, which keeps the people coming to and back to the show. They've benefited from some buzz-worthy names like Constantine, Kerry Butler, and Dee Snider, but a lot of amazingly talented, lesser known people have come through Rock of Ages who have since become buzz-worthy in part because of Rock of Ages, such as Jeremy Jordan, Wesley Taylor, Lauren Molina, and Mitch Jarvis.
What were your thoughts on the 2012 big screen adaptation of the show?
Taken on its own, I thought the movie was fun. It has elements of a great campy, cheesy,, in a good way, musical comedy, but it wasn't really Rock of Ages. I sometimes jokingly refer to it as "Untitled Shankman 80s Movie." I do find it ironic that they cast Julianne Hough as Sherrie but actually reduced her dancing as compared to the stage show. My favorite part is seeing the First National Tour cast members in Tower Records during the Juke Box Hero/I Love Rock n Roll scene.
Can you share some of your most interesting experiences, either at the show or at the stage door?
Michele Mais has always been one of my favorites on and offstage. Ashley Andree, a good friend who I had actually met at Rock of Ages, had celebrated her 21st birthday at the show a few years ago. Afterward, Maisey surprised her at the stage door by bringing out a cupcake with a single candle and singing Happy Birthday to her. On one of my birthdays, she gave me a tin of novelty band-aids. Random, but fun. Maisey is the best.
Another fan, Billy Peterson, created the unofficial Rock of Ages mascot, Señorita Lee Ann Llama (SLAL), and I love travelling with her whenever I go to a far away show. I've taken her to Melbourne, London, Manila, Stockholm, Las Vegas, three cruises on the NCL Breakaway, and a number of US tour cities. I always ask the various casts to take her backstage, take pictures, and just have fun with her. She has her own Facebook and Twitter accounts that document some of the shenanigans. She's been taken onstage during 'Don't Stop Believing' on the West End a couple times, and cast members have even taken pictures of me in the audience from onstage using the camera I send with her.
I love meeting and talking to the cast about things not necessarily related to the show, especially in more social settings. At the stage door and at public events, I try to respect the performer/audience member dynamic, but it's nice to interact with the actors on a personal level from time to time. My first social interaction was being invited to a local bar after a show with the entire Australian cast. They were a big help in planning what I should do in and around Melbourne besides seeing the show. In London, a few individual cast members invited me out on a couple occasions, and I've been out with Second National Tour cast members in a couple different cities across the US and Canada. Holly Laurent, Aaron Walpole (Toronto), MiG Ayesa (First National Tour, Broadway, and Manila), Nathan Amzi (West End), and Dominique Scott (Second National Tour) have been particularly kind to me over the years.
Among the most fun times I've had with cast members have been on the NCL Breakaway. I didn't get to spend much time with the first cast because I was with the Broadway Cruise group, but I did spend quite a bit of time with the second and third casts. Most of them I had met for the first time aboard the ship, so I enjoyed getting to know them over drinks and seeing them guest perform at the Howl at the Moon dueling piano nights.
The most unusual experience happened in Stockholm. There wasn't an organized stage door there, and the language barrier prevented me from getting any solid information about the protocol for meeting the actors, so the
first night I was there, I ended up staying pretty late by one of the theatre exits. I'm sure a number of the actors who I didn't recognize out of costume walked right by me, but I was reluctant to approach strangers and ask them if they were in the cast - especially in English. I only recognized and approached two cast members Johan Rheborg (Lonny) and Bruno Mitsogiannis (Drew), the latter of whom I asked to take a photo with SLAL and briefly chatted. At the first show the next day, I was in the second row, and I noticed that many people were taking pictures of the stage, so I did as well. When I entered the theatre later for the second show of the day, I was stopped by an usher. She said something to the effect of, "You've been here before. You like to take pictures. Please see the manager at intermission." I thought I was going to be scolded for taking pictures at the earlier show, but I dutifully met the manager in the lobby at intermission. Far from getting scolded, she asked me which actors I'd like to meet after the show. I can only assume that Bruno had told management that I would be back. After the show, SLAL and I met Bruno, Mari Haugen Smistad (Sherrie), Peter Johansson (Stacee Jaxx), and Emmie Asplund Eriksson (Waitress #1) onstage for an impromptu meet and greet.
One of the most unintentionally hilarious things I've witnessed onstage was James Carpinello (original Broadway Stacee Jaxx) break the stall door in the scene leading up to 'I Want to Know What Love Is.' He slammed the door shut so forcefully that he pulled it past the flange. After a couple unsuccessful attempts to get it open to make his exit, he had to quickly step onto the toilet and climbed over the side wall. I'm not sure how it played to people who hadn't seen the show before, but I couldn't stop laughing.
At the closing performance of the Toronto production, Aaron Walpole's (Lonny) then-girlfriend (now-fiancé) snuck into the front row during the opening number. Aaron saw her and made her the "programme-holding freak machine," at which point she stood up and dropped the robe she was wearing revealing the sexy lingerie underneath. I think only a few of the ushers knew she was going to do this, and the whole theatre, including the actors onstage, totally lost it and clapped and cheered like crazy.
In the scene leading up to 'Can't Fight This Feeling,' Dennis Dupree notes that he's packed up the Bourbon Room in preparation of its closing. During the final performance of the First National Tour in DC, Nick Cordero ad-libbed a very heartfelt and touching in-character goodbye. He said that even though they were closing down, no one could take away the memories of the blood, sweat, and tears of everyone involved. It actually brought me to tears, and that memory has stuck with me ever since.
Prior to the launch of the Second National Tour, I friended many of the cast members on Facebook. When Dom Scott (Drew) posted about his mixture of dread and excitement about the three-show day in Kitchener, ON, I commented that I intended to be there for all three. He replied that if I made it to all three, he'd give me a trophy. I did go to all three, and at the after party, he presented me with an awesome handmade trophy made from a wine cooler bottle, a costume necklace, and other props from the show.
One of the most emotional moments came during the closing performance of the West End production. During 'More Than Words,' Natalie Andreou (Sherrie) broke down crying during the penultimate line. Without missing a beat, the audience finished for her by singing, "'Cause I'd already know..." When Carly Dyer (Waitress #1) continued the scene asking her, "Are you OK, girl?" and Natalie replied, "Yeah, I'll be fine," the theatre erupted with applause.
Perhaps the most unusual shows I've seen were the two in Indianapolis on 01/26/14 (Second National Tour). They were in Cleveland the night before, and were caught in the middle of a pretty bad snow storm. On the overnight trip to Indianapolis, one of the trucks had a problem. Although most of the set made it as scheduled, by the time the lights and other essential equipment got there, it was too late to build the full set. The company did some early morning reblocking, and performed both show with essentially just the video screen, Arsenal's perch, and the bar. The revolving Mayor's office/men's bathroom/etc. set piece was hidden behind a simple black curtain that raised and lowered as needed, and there were no stairs, doors, walls, or poles whatsoever. It was a very bare, minimalist set reminiscent of [title of show]. It was a shame too because Indy is Josh Hobbs's (Stacee Jaxx) hometown, but I was very impressed at the professionalism and overall production quality even though there was no set.
Producer Matthew Weaver personally thanked you for your continuing support and dedication to the show. What did that mean to you?
That was very heartwarming. I'm just a fan who doesn't live in New York or have any industry background or connections, and despite the number of times I've seen the show, I don't feel like I'm any different than any other paying customer, so to be recognized and thanked by the lead producer of a Broadway show was very significant.
Do you have a favorite song and/or number from the show?
My favorite part of a song is the end of 'Harden My Heart.' That high note is the single most important moment of the show for me - it's make or break time. Although it has never really ever broken anyone, it has often elevated a performance from good to great.
My favorite song as a whole is 'High Enough.' After hearing it in the show, listening to the Damn Yankees version is kind of a strange experience. The original version is a sweet, melodic ballad yearning about times past. The show version is a powerfully intense anthem lamenting lost love. It's best when Drew and Sherrie are equally matched and one does not overpower the other. Constantine and Emily Padgett have been my favorite Drew-Sherrie combination on High Enough to date.
Constantine Maroulis has recently made his return to the show. How has his take on the role changed
since he made his debut several years ago?
I've only seen Constantine twice since his return, so I can't really properly assess in detail how his performance has changed. I don't know if it's strictly a difference between now and then so much as a change in early Constantine to later Constantine, but he definitely has an authoritative presence onstage - he owns that stage. I will say that as much as he is known for his amazing singing and charisma, I don't think Constantine gets enough credit as an actor. He was so commanding in Jekyll and Hyde yet so comedic in Rock of Ages. To me, his line readings and small choices and nuances are what make him so great. A lot of people can sing, but if I just want to hear a great voice, I'll buy a CD.
Are there other Broadway shows that you've became a repeat visitor to? What are some of your other favorites?
It's a long way from 500, but my next highest repeat show is probably Bring It On. I've seen it 30 times - 20 times on Broadway and 10 times on the Second National Tour. I've also seen Wicked at least 25 times across Broadway, both US tours, and London, but I don't know my exact count. (It is probably less than 30 though.) The next highest number that I'm sure of is If/Then at 15 - 9 times in DC and 6 times in New York. Other shows that I frequent on more community and regional levels are Rent, A Chorus Line, Next to Normal, and The Last 5 Years.
In addition to specific shows, I also like to follow favorite actors around to different shows. I've seen Lauren Molina in at least 7 different shows in 5 different cities (including Rock of Ages in New York), and I love both her solo and Skivvies music. I make it a point to try to see Rock of Ages and Bring It On alumni in whatever new shows they perform in. Kate Rockwell was in both, so she has a fan for life.
What was your 500th performance like? Did the cast do anything special to mark the event?
I don't really remember specific performance details about #500. It was a very surreal blur. I was very much caught up in the overall energy. I usually watch for and take note of specific moments onstage, but this time, I kind of stepped out of myself and took the whole theatre in. There were a couple cool moments that I do remember, like Josh Sassanella (Joey Primo) and Katie Webber (Waitress #1) approaching me, smiling, and high fiving as they came up the aisle during Don't Stop Believing, and Joel Hoekstra (Guitar 1) pointing and acknowledging me from onstage. Both those things might happen during a normal performance, but they were extra special during #500.
I honestly wasn't expecting anything special for #500, so I was very surprised when Alyssa Herrera (Young Groupie) came out the stage door and presented me with a huge bouquet of flowers on behalf of the entire cast, crew, and creatives. Justin Scribner (the Production Stage Manager) took a couple of pictures - one of me and Alyssa, another of me, Alyssa, Cody Lancaster (Franz), and Joey Calveri (Stacee Jaxx) - which have been posted and tweeted by the Rock of Ages social media accounts. Also, as of yesterday (09/09/14), Constantine is using the stage door photo of the two of us as his Facebook profile picture. I know the rule of the internet is "Don't read the comments," but some of them are absolutely hilarious.
Photo credit: Robb Johnston
Photos courtesy of Abe Calimag/Facebook