BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES Rocks The Palace
The Georgetown Palace Theatre has long been known as a place to see classic musical theatre sprinkled with a few Disney shows over the years, but with ROCK OF AGES they venture into the modern adult musical world and the result is not only brilliant, it's hilarious and hugely entertaining.
The jukebox musical with book by Chris D'Arienzo includes songs by some of the greatest rock bands of the 1980's, Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar and a host of others. The story, narrated by Lonny (Jon DeMichele), starts at the Bourbon Room, a seedy rock club on the Sunset Strip. One thing ROCK OF AGES sets up early on is that it is an admittedly theatrical piece that never takes itself seriously. Lonny sets the stage and introduces us to rocker wannabe Drew (Brian DeFillippo) and fresh from the farm girl, Sherrie (Ashlee Zoch) along with club owner Dennis (Aaron Stahlecker). We also meet German property developer Hertz (Ismael Soto III) and his son Franz (Jackson Sundgren) who want to demolish Sunset Strip and put up a shopping mall. Throw in aging rock icon Stacee Jaxx (Clifford Butler) and you have the recipe for conflict and angst rife in virtually every power rock ballad of the '80's. Lonny talks frequently to the audience, breaking the fourth wall and stringing the scenes together making transitions seamless. Most jukebox musicals have a very thin plot and the songs can seem forced to fit in. The difference with ROCK OF AGES is that it never pretends to be anything it's not, it never aspires to any higher meaning than the love of rock and roll. A lengthy run on Broadway and subsequent productions worldwide are proof that '80's hair bands are here to stay. For my money, a show that includes Styx's Renegade' Steve Perry's 'Oh Sherrie' alongside 'Harden My Heart' by Quarterflash is great in my book.
The Palace production is just plain fun from beginning to end and while this is definitely an adult show, every moment is incredibly entertaining. Director Ron Watson scores top marks for not holding back for fear of offending a few theatre goers. He allows the grit of the play to shine through and in a show that is this much of a departure from the normal Palace fare, he succeeds in every way. The ensemble is fluid and keeps the action flowing, providing the waitresses at the Bourbon Room, the protesters at the demolition site and the patrons and dancers at the strip club. Cast standouts include, Ashlee Zoch is wonderful as the innocent young actress who gets off the bus in LA only to have her dreams crushed. As Drew, the wannabe rock star, Brian DeFillippo is sweet and goofy, a perfect fit for this production. As the young woman who stands up the the demolition of Sunset Strip, Regina, Kelsey Kimble is bright and shines like a new penny, her voice as sweet as her character. Ismael Soto is perfectly cast as the greedy European villain Hertz. Soto plays the part for everything it's worth. Jon DeMitchell's Lonny is outstanding, his ability to play the role with an off the cuff manner is amazingly fun. But it's Clifford Butler as rock star Stacee Jaxx who entirely steals the show. His perfect timing and gifted physical comedy keep the audience howling with laughter as his character hits the skids is worth the price of admission. A great singer, Butler shows that he has a voice truly meant to sing a rock ballad, his performance alone makes this a can't miss show. Austin Kimble's music direction is fantastic, every song clear, precise and full of vocals that carry the soul of familiar songs without merely duplicating them. The onstage band of Austin Kimble, Lannie Humbolt, Harrell Williams, Tuffy Morzenti and Chris Tondre is nothing short of spectacular. They rock the show from beginning to end and play every song as if it were their own hit. Choreography by Jesee Smart is playful and sexy, the pole dancing is a particular standout. Faith Castaneda's lighting design is simply gorgeous, using color and robotics to create a perfect setting for the high voltage show. The set, designed by Michael Davis and Ron Watson is excellent, using the space efficiently while offering more than just a framework for the show. The set has depth and character, but never distracts from the performance. It all adds up to a must see show, ROCK OF AGES will entertain you from beginning to end.
I give my highest recommendation to ROCK OF AGES at the Georgetown Palace Theatre. It is a laugh out loud walk down a musical memory lane that is sure to please. Just as a reminder, this is an adult show, intended for adult patrons only, parental guidance is highly recommended.
ROCK OF AGES
Written by Chris D'Arienzo
Directed by Ron Watson
Georgetown Palace Theatre, Georgetown, TX
July 7 - August 6
Running Time: 2 and one half hours with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $28 - $30, georgetownpalace.com