BWW Review: ROCK OF AGES in Minneapolis
ROCK OF AGES played Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre for one weekend (Feb. 8-10) so this will not help you see it if you happen to be in the area right now, but if you were a child of the 80s, chances are this show will not only bring you back to another time and place, it'll remind you of yourself or people you knew. And like a class reunion you just cannot miss, you probably will want to check it out the next time it comes through town. This show is not as much Broadway musical as it is 1980s party complete with big hair, wine coolers and big rock ballads that bring you back in time in a good way.
In hindsight, while I knew I'd never seen this on stage, it finally hit me that I saw the 2012 film version of this 2009 Broadway show. It felt oddly familiar but I figured that was because I lived this show's music, hair and costumes in high school. Dating myself, I totally recall people who looked and behaved to some degree like these characters, and the music was the soundtrack of those years of my youth. While I was never a heavy metal rock fanatic, you couldn't miss these rock anthems in those days on the radio and the school dances.
Chris D'Arienzo wrote the book around a package of hits by iconic bands such as Styx, Poison, Twisted Sister and Whitesnake, among many others. It's ("roughly") 1987 on Hollywood's Sunset Strip when a small-town girl meets a big city rocker. As they fall in love in L.A.'s most famous rock club, this 10th anniversary production plays in and out of all the hits you can think of (except Def Leopard, as noted in the pre-show announcement by character Lonny). The girl, Sherrie Christian (Katie LaMark)-- oh, yes, you know what that means: you'll hear both "Oh, Sherrie" and "Sister Christian" -- wants to be an actress but ends up on another "stage" with much less on. Rocker Stacee Jaxx (Sam Harvey) is breaking up with his band and self-destructing on his own. Wannabe rocker Drew, aka Wolfgang von Colt, (Anthony Nuccio), plays it cool but has the best covers of the big rock anthems.
The comedy in this show is off the charts; these young actors have tongues firmly in cheek as they ham up the 80s looks and they totally go all in with the party on stage. Harvey's Jaxx was probably the best overall performance with his over-the-top, over-sexualized, self-absorbed rock God. LaMark provided solid singing and dancing in her short skirts and teased hair. John-Michael Breen's Lonny provided narration and an awesome use of the Fogmaster 5000 in all the key moments.
The other noteworthy difference this show brought to the Orpheum was the audience was not the usual band of theatre patrons. This crowd was in the house to par-tay and were likely holding their own grown-up wine coolers judging from the rowdy atmosphere not usually present in the Broadway on Hennepin house. Often singing along over the actors on stage and jumping up to dance in their seats like a rock concert, they were excited each time the familiar chords of a loved tune began. If you' are not ready to join the fun, you may want to sit this one out -- it's not a place to "shush" the fun. The cast encourages everyone to join in as they wail Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" to end the show and the theatre is one big dance party.
While younger theatre-goers likely will have a good time at this show, it's those who lived it who'll have "Nothing But a Good Time" reliving their youth in this nostalgia-fest bathed in Aquanet and Bartles & Jaymes. Party on.
More information: www.rockofagesmusicaltour.com
Photo: National Tour of ROCK OF AGES, by Jeremy Daniel. Courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.