ROCK OF AGES IS “DON’T STOP BELIEVIN” HIGH ENERGY HEAD BANGING JUKEBOX AT FULL VOLUME NOT TO BE MISSED
The hair whips and 80’s glam rock is at full throttle this summer at CenterReps thrilling production of ROCK OF AGES. A power rock jukebox musical now on stage at the Margaret Lesher Stage in Walnut Creek Ca. through June 25th. Built around classic rock hits from the 1980s, especially the famous glam metal bands of the decade, with a book by Chris D'Arienzo and arrangements by Ethan Popp. This local SF East Bay regional premiere of the Tony nominated musical has a terrific and exceptionally power rocking cast and a visually appealing creative team that makes this romp better than the national tour version I attended.
The musical features songs from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar,Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison, Asia, and others. This northern California premiere of ROCK OF AGES makes all the other jukebox musicals seem like they are missing this energy. From its first Steve Perry song “Anyway You Want It” this hair romp is entertaining. Directed by Dyan McBride, she teamed a young, excellent cast to blow out the Margaret Lesher with some silly decadence and delightful debauchery.
The marvelous rosey cheeked Jacob Judd plays Lonny, the narrator, who breaks down that fourth wall and charms the sold out audience, his voice is authoritative and his songs dynamic. Lonny takes us on D’ Arienzo’s very entertaining story that we have seen so many times: Girl loves boy, the “man” wants the club lease, and let's throw one last big ass show. Even though we have all seen this plot so many times, this version of 80’s rock is worth the visit. D’Arienzo makes sure his story makes fun of itself, the entire 2 1/2 hours sometimes the show moves so fast and you only want more.
Judd is just one of the high lights of this first rate cast, the featured roles are all memorable.
The main story takes place on the Los Angeles Sunset Strip, a real estate developer wants to tear down a classic Hair metal bar so their company can build a shopping mall. The wanna be new kid at the bar, Drew, who dreams of being a star, is played full throttle by Nikita Burshteyn, who has some of the best solos in the show. Burshteyn brings an amazing charm to the young man with a dream and has so much energy in the role. Drew falls for the new girl off the bus, Sherrie, skillfully played by Elise Youssef, who might be a bit too cute and sweet after she makes her predictable transition to a call girl and pole dancer. Youssef has a tender voice and Burshteyn and her offer up some of the best duets on the song list. A lively performance as they both show off their excellent voices and comic timing.
ROCK OF AGES spoofs itself from the get go with Lonny flirting with the audience to the effective use of the cast always reminding us that we are watching a silly musical.
This tale of an innocent boy and a small-town girl, who are both looking for love and success on the Strip, can be sordid and campy, but also a heartwarming and hilarious celebration of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The two young leads dream of becoming as famous as their idol, rock legend Stacee Jaxx, played with best narcissistic camp by Lucas Coleman. Jaxx opens his set with “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Coleman shows his comic passion, talent and voice. Sherrie and Drew discover that everything isn't as good as it seems in the glam world of rock, including the ego of Jaxx.
The villain is an uptight, greedy German property developer and her son played with the perfect level of lovable evil by Tiiu Ea Reband and Tyce Green. She wants to demolish and rebuild the Bourbon Room club that is owned by Dennis DuPree well played by the hard nose groovy Will Springhorn Jr. With hit songs from Slade, Europe, Asia, Pat Benatar, Styx, Foreigner, Survivor and Night Ranger (some of the hits that make your head bang) Springhorn Jr, and Judd powerhouse through the best musical moments. Their duet of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” brings that number to life with the excellent cast who shine on John Lacovelli’s tinsel town Burbon Bar full set. Kevin Roland’s wig infested head banging band is perched above Lacobelli’s theme park like set and they easily fill, not only the Margaret Lesher, but the Dean Lesher entire Center for the Arts. Roland’s band with Ken Bergmann on drums, Travis Kindred on bass, Sam Schwartz, Adam Schuman on guitars are on stage the entire time and are as involved and entertaining as the leads. Roland on Keyboard gave me a whole new respect for the Journey anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’” it is so perfect that you forget how predictably goofy this musical is.
Local favorite and TBA winner for best musical actor, Nikita Burshteyn, brings a lovable take to a dream catcher with Drew. His “I wanna Rock” with the company is a show stopper, and in the second act his "Oh Sherrie" duet with Youssef and the ensemble is also irresistible. McBride’s direction is very busy and she keeps this show moving but as wonderful as her work is some of the white haired CenterRep sold out audience may have miss the point of the fun, and you can count all the empty seats during the second act. But for the lucky ones that stay it's a wonderful ride. Rebecca Ann Aalentino’s fun colorful costumes are perfectly overstated 80’s, the men in vintage bowling shirts and leather, the women in tight hot outrageous and full of fringe glam. Jaxx covered in just his furs and always topless, Drew in simple rock clothes, but later in a camp Boz band look. Deal and Disbrows wigs become the 18th member of this dynamite company. The hair flips are the best, and rag tops on the band sloppy and funny, but do the job.
Rebane sings a great pop version of “Keep On Loving You” and Green is wonderful in “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” with the ensemble. The cast includes some excellent talent: the strong versatile, Mark Duncanson, who plays a number of roles, but is best as Ja’Keith Grill, Drews weasel manager. The awesome powerhouse Erica Richardson as Justice who runs the strip club brings it home with her girls in “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. The enjoyable Elizabeth Curtis is Regina the sweet heart advocate from the Mayor's office who loves the club, has an impressive solo in “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. Curtis is always excellent playing a character role in all the productions I have seen her perform in. The dapper Michael Doppe plays Joey, and the reporter who lusts after Jaxx is played by Tracy Freeman. Jesse Cortez fills in for a club fan boy and makes an excellent transformation into the sexy Candi.
Staci Arriaga choreographed some sizzling numbers that include erotic pole dancing to hair whipping 80’s eye popping dance moves. Since most of the show can appear to be a rock concert Kurt Landisman’s lighting fits that bill, and works his magic to the neon Sunset Blvd signs around the theatre. Trielle Baker, Justin Travis Buchs, Ariel Daly, Yuliya Freeman, are all professional in their various roles of protesters, strippers, and club fans.
ROCK OF AGES, is a sparkling summer fun glam show, and it may not appeal to all, but nightly audiences are on their feet at the end of each performance. The show is big, polished pizzazz of “We Built This City”, and will win you over if you are lucky to get any remaining seats. If you bring your own wine coolers leave them in the lobby. And hope and look forward to a gnarly night that might even have some air-guitar at intermission and Jazz Hands to take you home.
Center Repertory Company Presents
'ROCK OF AGES'
By Chris D'Arienzo, drawn from rock and pop hits of the 1980s,
Directed by Dyan McBride, Music Direction Kevin Roland,
Choreography by Staci Arriaga
Through: June 25
Lesher Center for Performing Arts,
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2.5 hours one intermission
Tickets: $37-$63; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org
Artistic Director Michael Butler talks about ROA
Lucas Coleman and Nikita Burshteyn at their photo shoot for ROA
Photos by: www.mellophoto.com