BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES 10th Anniversary Tour Headbangs Classic Eighties Rock At The Hippodrome
ROCK OF AGES lands its 10th anniversary tour at the Hippodrome! Few of the players in the show experienced the eighties first-hand, being, by and large, too young to have even been conceived on any Prom Night before 1993. This does not in any way impede their commitment to the music or diminish their powerhouse talent. The band- who did not play at my prom (I wish!)- very likely danced to Foreigner, Styxx, Whitesnake and Benatar right along with me, and is onstage for the duration of the show rather than hidden in the orchestra pit.
The gorgeous space of the Hippodrome becomes a little less posh, a little more grunge, thanks to the visual storytelling prowess of set designer David Gallo- just for the performance, though. The scaffold set and touring trunks that represent a variety of locations during the show will pack up and leave with the tour.
If you're looking for a deep, meaningful story with characters of depth and dimensionality, situations filled with nuance and ambiguity, keep looking. This is not that. It is a revisitation of your youth (depending on your age) as performed by the greatest '80s cover band you're likely to encounter. Writer Chris D'Arienzo provides stock scenarios and characters mostly to form a through-line for more than 30 big-hair eighties rock standards that are the backbone and muscle of the ROCK OF AGES experience.
Director Martha Banta wisely avoids turning a popcorn show into 'serious theatre,' while tossing subtextual musical theatre references out for the theatre geeks in the crowd. Her strong ensemble players handle Ethan Popp's musical arrangements with enthusiasm and skill.
John-Michael Breen as Lonny has an air of teenage dirtbag to him, but with heart and charm. He is our much-beloved host for the evening. Anthony Nuccio and Katie LaMark as focal romantic leads Drew and Sherrie handle the spotlight well and are wonderful vocalists. As mentor and mother-figure Justice, Kenya Hamilton is warmly salty. In the role of Stacee Jaxx, self-absorbed frontman of Arsenal, Sam Harvey delivers an acrobatic performance with strength and admirable physical comedy chops.
Janet Rothermel's energetic choreography keeps the action going with lighthearted tropes of musical theatre dance. The frequent freezes are very well done, and I'm especially impressed with the cast handling set changes. Scenic designer David Gallo gives us a set composed mainly of oversized music travel cases on wheels, which works nicely to sustain the pace- no interruptions for set changes; each sequence segues smoothly into the next.
Costuming may remind you of something you had (still have?) in your closet back in the day, when 'back in the day' was something people said. Though the hairstyles are authentic, the wigs look....wiggy.
Thematically, Extreme's "More Than Words" belongs in the show, although, as nearly anyone who's 'of a certain age' could tell you, it wasn't released until 1990. Oh, fine, I'll stop being pedantic, (I probably won't), because being period-accurate isn't really the point of the show.
The show isn't really the point of the show, either. There are some really fun sequences built in, but to call the plot thin and contrived would be flattery. It's ridiculous and requires hokey German accents, like Springtime For Hitler on steroids. The dialogue, however, is snappy and well delivered.
The point, of course, is the music, the songs, and the delivery of them. The band, billed as Arsenal during the show, is top notch, handling all the quirks and signatures of '80s rock like champions. Special shout-out goes to monster drummer Chris Moore. Conductor Marshall Keating is onstage on keyboard, and each of those dudes is wearing his own real hair. Thanks for the well-timed Gloria Gaynor riff, by the way.
Supporting the singers and musicians is flawless sound tech that threatens at times to be too loud, but never quite is. The balance is tilted slightly toward the vocalists, every lyric crystal clear, and I understand some of them for the very first time. Mike Baldassari's concert-style lighting design illuminates the stage brilliantly and with flourish.
If you don't like big-hair glam rock, (really?), this show may be a cup of tea that is not yours. To its credit, the show is uniquely intimate. Some theatre goers appreciate a show that includes audience involvement, which Baltimore provides in its inimitable fashion, and the performers respond beautifully. If you do like decades-old music (Peter Gabriel's album So turned 30 three years ago) treat yourself to a live experience, and bring along your mix tape. You'll want it for the ride home.
Located right in downtown Baltimore, the Hippodrome is near historic Lexington Market. There are many excellent food venues nearby if you want dinner before the show. The Hippodrome bar is open pre-show serving snacks, soft drinks and cocktails. All staff and volunteers are friendly, knowledgeable and expediently helpful. You're permitted to carry food and beverages (including your intermission cocktail) into the theatre.
The Hippodrome is accessible by public transit, though if you drive, there are several nearby parking options: an open lot on Eutaw street, the Fayette Street garage adjacent to the theatre, and the Eutaw garage a bit North of the Hippodrome. I've been lucky and found street parking, (free after 6pm!), on recent visits; I chose the Fayette structure, however, and paid $12 for the pre-paid and proximity convenience. The parking structure connects directly to the Hippodrome's northern lobby.
Run Time: 1.5 hours, with 15 minute intermission. ROCK OF AGES plays at the Hippodrome Friday, February 15th and Saturday, February 16th 2019 before moving on to play 3 cities in North Carolina, Columbia, SC, Columbus, GA, and finishes the month in Conway, AR. Catch up with the whole gang on the webpage. This is a non-equity tour.
The Hippodrome is located at 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD, 21201 410-837-7400
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel