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BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES is Totally Radical at The Central New York Playhouse

BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES is Totally Radical at The Central New York Playhouse
The company of The CNY Playhouse production of Rock of Ages. Photo by Amelia Beamish/AB Photography.

What do you get when you mix a stellar group of community theatre actors, a devoted theatre company, and 80's rock hits? The answer is the totally radical production of Rock of Ages now entertaining audiences at the Central New York Playhouse. Director Dan Rowlands has assembled a high energy, talented cast to bring the rock/jukebox musical to local audiences and the end result is a non-stop party on stage.

Chris D'Arienzo's book, of course, isn't the most complex in the American musical theatre scene, but he pokes fun at that fact. What we have is a purely fun musical. The story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and so on is laced between classic rock songs from the 1980s. Featuring arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp, the musical numbers include hits by Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Poison, Steve Perry, and many more.

So let's get to the story.

A guy named Lonny (Josh Taylor) narrates the show and lets the audience know what the story within this musical is all about - we're introduced to an aspiring rocker named Drew Boley (Tyler Ianunzi) who works as a busboy at the famous Hollywood club The Bourbon Room, owned by Dennis Dupree (Christopher James Lupia). Drew instantly falls in love with Sherrie Christian (Hali Greenhouse), an aspiring actress from Paola, Kansas who has just arrived in Hollywood. It's the mid-to-late 1980s and Drew's love life isn't the only uncertainty. The Bourbon Room has its own problems. A pair of German developers are arriving and trying to introduce "clean living" rather than the "sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll" life that's prevalent on L.A.'s Sunset Strip. Will the boy get the girl? Whose dream will come true? Will the Bourbon room be demolished?

CNY Playhouse's talented designers are key to bringing the story to life. Dan Rowlands and Christopher James Lupia have crafted a simple yet effective set on which the party on the Sunset Strip unfolds. It features a bar for The Bourbon Room, a stage for the live orchestra/arsenal, stripper poles, and various doors. There was also a treat for audiences - a moving car (think The Flintstones) is featured in the Foreigner number "Waiting for a Girl Like You." Kate Kisselstein and Sam Eddy's costumes featuring spandex, leather, and bright colors remind us of the time period. The lighting by Liam Fitzpatrick enhances the cast's energy. Central New York favorite Abel Searor provides the music direction. His players wear some entertaining wigs (designed by Sami Eddy) and rock the house. Rob Searle and Dan Rowlands sound design is also extremely effective. The cast, all wearing headsets, can be heard clearly rocking out to the 80's classics backed by the arsenal.

Speaking of the cast, most of them are pretty great as well.

Josh Taylor often has the opportunity to break the fourth wall as Lonny/the narrator and he's hilarious. He seemed to have a blast doing it and always stayed perfectly in character. His raspy and powerful rock n' roll vocals are perfect for his many solos. He opens the show with "Cum on Feel the Noize (Pre-Reprise)" (Quiet Riot) and the energy only escalates from there. Taylor is the heart of the production and the rest of the cast perfectly plays off him. Taylor rocks the house and charms all the way through the show.

Tyler Ianunzi is ideally cast as aspiring rocker Drew Boley. He has excellent line delivery and chemistry with his fellow actors. But that's not all. He has killer vocals and they are crisp and clear. His voice soars on those 80s rock hits and his technique - along with his expressions - make the musical numbers extremely memorable, including "Nothin' but a Good Time" (Poison), "I Wanna Rock" (Twisted Sister), "Oh Sherrie" (Steve Perry), "The Search is Over" (Survivor), and many more.

Hali Greenhouse plays aspiring actress Sherrie Christian with a lot of comedic charm and she also has some killer vocals on her. This petite blonde effortlessly sings the 80s hits with attitude, style, and a lot of confidence. Standout moments include "Sister Christian" (Night Ranger), "Waiting for a Girl Like You" (Foreginer), "Wanted Dead or Alive" (Bon Jovi), "Harden My Heart/Shadows of the Night" (Quarterflash/Pat Benatar) "Any Way You Want It" (Journey), and "High Enough" (Damn Yankees), just to name a few.

Christopher James Lupia is confident and comedic in the role of Dennis Dupree, the owner of The Bourbon Room. He plays off his fellow actors very well. His duet with Josh Taylor on "Can't Fight this Feeling" is particularly hilarious. The two have great chemistry - and they end the number with the fog machine.

Other standouts include the always talented Kristina Abbot showing off her powerhouse, effortless vocals on "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" (Poison) and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin." She steals the spotlight like always. Cole LaVenture as Franz entertains with "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" (Pat Benatar). Sabrina Becker, playing Ragina the protester, delivers a memorable rendition of "We're Not Gonna Take it" (Twisted Sister). Eric Feldstein once again shows off his character acting skills and comedic abilities as Hertz. He sings an entertaining version of REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Loving You."

The supporting ensemble rocks the house with their infectious energy, powerhouse performances, and execution of bitchin' choreography by Sami Conter Hoerner.

Derek Potocki, portraying Stacee Jaxx the rock star, unfortunately delivered some disappointing vocals at the performance I attended. His solo moments were often weak, dull, and reminded me of something you might hear in a karaoke bar.

Overall though, the Central New York Playhouse's production of Rock of Ages showcases a very talented group of community theater actors. It boasts infectious energy and offers up a party you don't want to miss. It is a carefree production that is a totally rockin' summer treat.

Running Time: Two hours and twenty five minutes with one twenty minute intermission.

Rock of Ages runs through July 28, 2018 at The Central New York Playhouse in Syracuse, New York. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions, click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley