BWW Interview: Chris Renalds ROCK OF AGES Journey Goes from Mezzanine to Center Stage at Wolf Trap
Chris Renalds is giving the audience advice you may never expect to hear from a performer. In fact, it is so contradictory to the norms of theatergoing that some thespians may even consider it blasphemy. However, when you consider that the show he is performing in is Rock of Ages, Renalds' advice suddenly makes perfect sense.
"For all those coming to Wolf Trap, if you hear a song you like, sing along! We [the cast] love it when the audience gets into it and we want you to have a good time," says Renalds in a phone interview.
Starting next week, Rock of Ages is making a two-performance stop at Wolf Trap as part of its Tenth Anniversary Tour. The musical is more than just a celebration of the eighties. For Renalds, it's the culmination of a dream and journey which has taken him from the mezzanine to center stage.
"I first saw the show on Broadway when I moved to New York City in 2014. I was up in the mezzanine, behind a bachelorette party of 22 women, who were having a blast," says Renalds. "What really intrigued about this tour is that for the tenth anniversary they really decided to give it a fresh look. So some things like the direction and choreography have changed, but at its core the show is still all about having a really great time."
The show is set in the late eighties in a club along Hollywood's famous Sunset Strip. Renalds plays Franz, the son of a father-son development team, trying to convince city leaders to abandon their "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" reputation by tearing down the club.
"A lot of the cast refer to parts of the show as the trashy moments of the 80s, because the show is ridiculous, and not meant to be taken seriously 100 percent of the time. It's meant to be a blast," says Renalds.
Unlike most musicals, or even jukebox musicals, the show knowingly breaks the fourth-wall to engage the audience. But how does that change when the audience is no longer in a thousand-seat Broadway theatre, but rather a major outdoor venue and national park like Wolf Trap?
"Normally when you are in a traditional theatre, with haze from the stage lights, you cannot see beyond the sixth row. But that's not the case at Wolf Trap, because there's no way to hide the thousands of people in the audience when you're performing outdoors. So I try to do a little bit more breathing and relaxing before the show starts," says Renalds.
Few musicals seem as tailored to Wolf Trap as Rock of Ages. The nation's only national park dedicated to the performing arts already feels like a party with audiences arriving hours before the show to picnic on the giant lawn. Add the music of Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, and many more, and there's no doubt that audiences will be dancing in the aisle.
"The great thing about this show is that it is a show of hooks," says Renalds. "It opens with 'Cum on Feel the Noize' which is a four minute song. But in our show, it is a minute-thirty seconds, before transitioning to the next song, which is just enough time to get you hooked and get the energy up."
So, what song or moment most has Renalds hooked?
"I'm a little biased, but I love my big number 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot.' Look I have always loved Pat Benatar and that song is just a great anthem," says Renalds.
The road to Rock of Ages' Sunset Strip setting ironically enough started in Northern California where Renalds was raised. It was in high school when the acting bug bit him, moving him to New York City five years ago, after getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theatre from Boston's Emerson College.
"I love working hard, and that's what acting is," says Renalds. "Theatre is not for the meek. I moved to New York in 2014 and booked my first tour in 2018. It [acting] is hard, it takes persistence, but if you love what you do, it is worth it. I remember sitting in the mezzanine in 2014, and now to be onstage performing the same show is just unbelievable."
Photo: R) Chris Renalds, Kristina Walz. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.