BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES at Starlight Theatre
Starlight Theatre's opening offering for the 2019 summer season "Rock Of Ages" was the single most disagreeable theatrical experience in more than fifty years spent attending live theater. The performance of this rude, crude tribute to 1980s rock bands was probably OK, but it was impossible to hear. Seated directly behind us was a group of ten who competed with the performers with full voice sing-a-longs, continuous hoots-hollars, yelled commentary, hand clapping, and finger snapping. This behavior is not now, nor ever was, acceptable.
It is difficult to know if these people were an isolated instance. It would be interesting to know. They should have been asked to leave out of respect for the performers and for fellow audience members.
"Rock of Ages" is a paper thin tribute to 1980's Rock 'N Roll. To call this a jukebox musical is to give the genre a bad name. The book by Chris D'Arienzo is a jaded joke that does not kid itself that it is anything short of a money machine for its producers. The playwright calculates his audience will go along with the joke. D'Arienzo correctly analyzed his audience. The Broadway run was 2300 performances and the tour has been sallying onward for ten years.
There is no original music in this show, but if you enjoyed the music of Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, and their ilk, this could be a trip for you. To share a notion of what you are in for, the three opening numbers are "Cum On, Feel The Noize," "Sister Christian," and "We Built This City."
Every possible musical theater and rock-n roll convention is lampooned and harpooned. This is a play for people who dislike musical shows and long for those days when they too attended clubs and concerts intoxicated, were "high on life," and sniffed other substances. This gives them an opportunity to act as they remember they once did (or probably more correctly) as they imagined the cool kids who didn't pick them for gym teams acted at the parties to which they were never invited.
Lonny (John-Michael Breen), an obviously drug-addled failed rocker, appears to break the fourth wall, explain that this show is a deliberate, really bad, take on Broadway and popular music, and introduces the setting, the main characters, and the various plot lines.
The location is a long-hair rock club called "The Bourbon Room" on Los Angeles' fabled and run-down Sunset Strip during the Reagan administration. Think of "Times Square" during the same period. "The Bourbon Room" is owned by Dennis (Ryan M. Hunt). The slim plot goes down two parallel paths.
A wannabe rocker and bartender from New Jersey, Drew (Anthony Nuccio), falls for an aspiring actress/waitress/soon to be stripper from (wait for it) Kansas , Sherri (Katie LaMark). They connect and quickly misfire. She has a "quickie" with a cartoon rock star named Stacee Jaxx (Sam Harvey). Stacee discards her at the speed of light, has her fired, and she becomes a stripper/pole dancer at a neighborhood "gentleman's" club before reconciling with Drew.
The other plot track follows an effort by the corrupt Mayor (Darrell Purcell, Jr.) and a foreign, homophobic, real estate developer, Hertz (Andrew Tebo) to redevelop the area currently occupied by the club. They are opposed by the rockers and the Mayor's Assistant, Regina (Kristina Walz), and eventually by Hertz's apparently gay son (Chris Renalds). Regina turns him by the end of the show and the anti-historic redevelopment of "The Bourbon Club" never happens.
"Rock Of Ages" is deliberately, catoonishly, overacted throughout. It is dated in a way that zooms over the top of the time warp and lands with a thud on the other side. This is not the fault of the actors. They were intentionally directed this way. From the costumes, to the make-up (Gene Simmons would not feel out of place), to the sets, all the pieces parts are consciously overdone. The dance routines are determinedly hackneyed, but well performed.
Having thoroughly ripped "Rock Of Ages," this is not a bargain basement production. Actors, sets, costumes, lights, musicianship are all up to standard. The set is monumental enough to fill most of the huge Starlight stage space.
At the risk of being accused of having my sense of humor atrophied, some of my favorite shows are parodies like "The Play That Goes Wrong," "Dames At Sea," "Forbidden Broadway," "Avenue Q," "Kiss Me Kate," and (of course) "Rocky and his Friends." This one, at least for me, falls flat. "Rock Of Ages" plods on through its short Kansas City run through Sunday June 2.
Next up at Starlight is a locally produced version of "The Wizard Of Oz" beginning June 10. Tickets are available at www.kcstarlight.com or by telephone at 816-363-7827.
Photos courtesy of Starlight Theatre.