By Ashley Rader Ramsey
Rock of Ages is a show that falls into the category of the Jukebox musical. The 2000s saw a dramatic rise in this musical darling and everyone from Abba to Queen gave their fans a new view of their music with cleverly crafted storylines linked together with everyone’s favorite hits. While some musicals have made their way into household names (think Mamma Mia!) and some most of us forgot even happened (Sorry, Hot Feet), Rock of Ages finds itself somewhere comfortably in the middle.
Rock of Ages tells the story of Sunset Strip rock bar The Bourbon Room. Home to wannabe rockstars and wannabe groupies alike. The bar is owned by actual rocker and musician Dennis Dupree and serves as the setting for our love story. She’s just a small town girl and he’s a city boy (sing it now) born and raised in South Detroit. Sherry and Drew have both found themselves in LA chasing the fame dream, but for now he’s cleaning toilets and she’s serving beers. Enter father/son real estate developers Hertz and Franz Klinermann whose new plan for the Sunset Strip threatens the Bourbon Room’s home on the Strip. In attempt to save the bar, they bring in the now famous band Arsenal who got their start in the Bourbon Room. Arsenal’s band is led by the glamorously sexy Stacee Jaxx, who proves a threat to Sherry and Drew’s budding relationship.
Rock of Ages uses a narrator to weave and guide the story along. It’s not a complicated story and for the most part leaves all of the characters undeveloped and emotional shells of your rock glam stereotypes. It’s not gonna be a Pulitzer Prize winner and that’s okay. A show using a narrator can be risky but it was a risk that has definitely paid off in Midvale’s production of Rock of Ages.
Actor Danny Egger’s gives a stand out performance as Lonny. Egger’s Lonny walks a great line of can’t take him to Mama but you wanna take him home to tick off Daddy. Egger brings a fantastic stage presence to the role and impeccable comedic timing, as well. His character sets the tone and energy for the show the moment he sets foot on stage.
While the rest of the cast took a couple numbers to catch up to the energy that Eggers set on stage (opening night jitters?) they quickly found their pacing to keep the show moving at a good pace. Eric Williams’ portrayal of Dennis Dupree is one of the strongest of the show. Williams, clearly a talented musician (he plays both electric guitar and saxophone in the show) gives Dupree a grounded presence on stage. Dupree with his bell bottom pants and long hair is a reflection of the rock movement of the 70s and he has seen it all before. He offers a guiding hand to young musicians and a paycheck to others chasing their dreams. William’s portrayal is so effortless and natural in this role he just seems to weave in and out of the story seamlessly. Taylor Lawrence’s Regina is ridiculously funny and a joy in whenever she sets foot on stage. Her moments of physical comedy and her pure bleeding heart bring together a well-rounded and lovable character you will be rooting for to the very end.
Cassidy Ross and Jake Holt take on the roles of the love birds Sherry Christian and Drew. Ross and Holt do a nice job of building a romantic chemistry on stage especially in the medley “More Than Words/To Be With You/Heaven”. Holt vocally does a wonderful job of manuevering the higher range of the hits of glam rock and shows a nice vulnerability as Drew. Ross, while not the strongest performer vocally, shines in Sherry’s moments of heartache. Ross gives a nice naivety and girl next door to the role. She also finds strong moments alongside Ben Brinton as Stacee Jaxx. Ross and Brinton play well of each other in their moments of bathroom passion. On his own, Brinton brings one of the strongest male voices to Rock of Ages and nails the oozing sex appeal of your favorite eyeliner wearing and big hair sporting glam rocker of the 80s.
A musical is only has good as its ensemble and the ensemble of this production is clearly very talented. Many of the ensemble members also take on smaller bit roles that feature their talents nicely. Standouts in the ensemble are Darsity Robles who oozes sexy and cool, and Samantha Morford who shines with her dance skills and tumbling.
Jan Harris does a wonderful job of costuming as she stays true to what the 80s actually looked like and not the neon-colored parody that most millennials are familiar with. Sean McLaughlin’s set is deceptively simple but the longer you stare at it, the more realize how great it actually is. From the period stickers covering The Bourbon Room and pretty seamless transition of video sets, McLaughlin brings anice touch of realism to the genre and decade. Choreopraphy by Alexandira Zinov and assistant Siobhan Roche is fun and high energy. They do a nice job of physically telling the story through movement. Though at times the choreography did feel inorganic and a little complex for the cast to execute properly, it was still a source of strength for the production.
Director and theater owner Tammy Jackson Ross has done such a wonderful job of building a theatre for Utah to see so much more than the usually produced popular pieces. Unafraid to be edgy and honest about tough subjects, she can be counted on for quality and high standards for her shows. Rock of Ages is no exception and her work of art shows clearly through in the direction of her show. Her talent as a director is highlighted in the strong performances of her actors. One of the strongest moments of the show is the number “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” an unexpected love ballad between Lonny and Dennis. It is the duet between Eric Clapton and Billie Joe Armstrong that you didn’t know your heart was missing. While a strange and very sudden change of events, Ross’ direction of the rise and fall, and light peppering of comedy make it a highlight of the show.
Rock of Ages is rude and crude in all the right ways but probably isn’t appropriate for young teenagers and small children. Language and thematic events make it not great option for a family night out but the perfect escape for date night and girls and guys nights out.
Rock of Ages is playing now at Midvale Main Street Theatre now through June 24th with shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 with one Sunday night show on June 11. Tickets range from $15-22. Food is also available for purchase at the theatre.
7711 South Main Street (700 West) Midvale, Utah 84047, firstname.lastname@example.org Tel (801) 566-0596