An evening of “decadence and debauchery” was promised to the audience at Overture Hall, and the cast of Rock of Ages delivered. Directed by Kristin Hanggi and based on the book written by Chris D’Arienzo, the “Rock of Ages” roused the teeming musical goers from their seats with ’80s arena rock and hair bigger than the actors’ outfits.
The Rock of Ages is set on the famous Sunset Strip in California. The musical focuses around the characters of the Hollywood bar/night club The Bourbon Room. It faces demolition when a big-whig developer and his son come in and plan to substitute the “drugs, sex, and rock and roll” lifestyle of the strip for a cleaner, efficient way of life. The Bourbon Room crew fights back trying to raise enough money to save its establishment, which nurtures young, up-and-coming rockers. Intertwined with the Bourbon Room story is the rollercoaster love story involving wannabe rocker Drew, played by Dominique Scott, and small-town actress hopeful Sherrie, played by Shannon Mullen. These two and the cast melt faces and hearts with their roof raising hits from ’80s legends such as Journey and Pat Benatar.
The energetic and colorful cast encompasses all the stereotypes that audiences would expect in a musical set on the legendary Sunset Strip in the ’80s. Character types range from the washed up rock star, the actress wannabe, the undiscovered rockstar, the vulgar barkeep, the Berkeley activist and the outdated hippie owner. Let’s face it, no ’80s musical would be complete without the ever-present doting groupies.
The focus couple captures the hearts of the audience with love-struck ballads and awkward teenage interactions after their initial meeting in The Bourbon Room. The narrator of the show, the vulgar Lonny, played by Justin Colombo, highlights the awkward moments — whether he’s a welcome interruption or not — to the young lovers. He connects with the audience with comments on individual audience members. His vulgar dialogue fits right in, and he is a shining beacon of humor ringing throughout the play.
If the cast wasn’t enough to capture the audience’s attention, the bright, flashy lights and overcrowded manner of the set would be enough to get the job done. The big signs looming over the entire set scream of Sunset Boulevard. They take the audience to warmer weather and life in the fast lane, strippers and sleazy producers included. Emblems of “drugs, sex and rock and roll” appeared everywhere. The Bourbon Room walls are covered with guitars, records and beer signs. What more can be asked from a bar giving young rockers their start? Not to mention the ever-present “house” band that’s ever present at the back of the stage riffing up a storm and keeping with the rocker mood. More than once they left this writer wishing she had a lighter in her purse.
The ’80s hits featured in the show are expertly crafted and paired to fit the tensions and triumphs onstage. The cast members hit jaw-dropping notes and hold them long enough to make Christina Aguilera proud. No one can can forget the Venus Club owner’s high note, straight from from the heart of soul, in the rendition of “Harden my Heart/ Shadows of the Night.”
Later she says she came out to LA to be a soul singer. Well, no kidding: A single note drew an uproarious round of applause from the audience before the song was even over.
The face-melting guitar paired with the dazzling light show is overwhelmingly reminiscent of rock shows. You’ll feel like you were born in the wrong decade after experiencing the sparkle and debauchery of these rock songs.
Scantily clad strippers and groupies, starry-eyed youth, rock stars and evil German developers come together in the finale with a rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin” that brings the audience to their feet. Everyone in the hall was dancing in their seat. Most were belting out every word right along with the cast. After all, who doesn’t love a sing-along to send the crowd off with a bang of glam and sparkle? The musical finishes with a satisfying happy ending with everything in its rightful place. The hippie owner of The Bourbon Room, played by Matt Ban, has a surprise ending. The finale left rock fans screaming like any great rock show finale.
Crass, vulgar and wonderful, The Rock of Ages is engaging and leaves audience members with ringing ears and stars in their eyes. After all, they “ain’t lookin’ for nothing but a good time,” and Rock of Ages delivers.