ROCK OF AGES IS “DON’T STOP BELIEVIN” HIGH ENERGY HEAD BANGING JUKEBOX AT FULL VOLUME GLAM
The hair whips and 80’s glam rock is at full throttle this summer at Stage 1 Summerfest at Ohlone college’s thrilling production of ROCK OF AGES. A power pop rock jukebox musical now on stage at the Gary Soren Smith Center in Fremont Ca. through July 22nd. 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 fast pace regional production of the Tony nominated musical has a terrific and exceptionally power rocking cast and a visually appealing creative team that makes this romp a must see as part of your summer theatre season.
The musical features songs from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar,Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison, Asia, and others. This company of ROCK OF AGES makes all the other jukebox musicals seem like they are missing this energy. I just caught MAMMA MIA at another outdoor venue; so jukebox musicals are the ode of 2017 summer. Performed at Ohlone’s outdoor amphitheater this run only has a few evening performances left, but what better place to Rock to 80’s music than under the stars in the Fremont foothills above historic Mission San Jose.
Director Kevin Hammond says don’t let the music mislead you “ It’s easy to brush their music off as nothing more that loud noise. But a closer listen reveals songs that are beautifully constructed. One needs to look no further than this musical as evidence of that. Just listen to the beautiful melody of Poison and Whitesnake’s Here I go Again ” . This company of ROCK OF AGES includes a cast or 22 local actors that have a great time bringing this jukebox of Rock a “Can’t Fight This Feeling” party to your seat.
ROCK OF AGES, nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical, is a big hair, story loosely based on familiar hits of the 1980's. It revolves around Drew and Sherrie, two young people who long to make it in the entertainment business. Drew works in a lounge on the Sunset Strip and looks for a chance to rock the stage rather than sweep it. Sherrie gets off the bus in LA with her suitcase and dreams of landing a part in the movies.
The villain German investor, Hertz Kinemann, and his son Franz arrive at the Mayor's office, to mow down the Strip and turn it into something more aesthetically and financially pleasing. City planner Regina (it's pronounced Reh JINE Ah) goes into action to mobilize protesters against the takeover while owner of the Bourbon Room, Dennis Dupree, plots with his assistant Lonny to book the band Arsenal with rock star Stacee Jaxx for their last big gig in order to boost sales.
From its first Steve Perry song “Anyway You Want It” this hair romp is entertaining. Director Hammond, teamed a young, excellent diverse cast to blow out the Ohlone’s outdoor amphitheater with some silly decadence and delightful debauchery.
The marvelous over the top Scott Holladay plays Lonny, the narrator, who breaks down that fourth wall and charms the hyped audience, his voice is authoritative and his songs dynamic. Holladay opens with “Nothing but a Good Time” 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 fast and you only want more of those classics. "Renegade", "Here I Go Again", "Wanted Dead of Alive", and "Waiting For a Girl Like You" fill the two act jukebox.
The wanna be new kid at the bar, Drew, who dreams of being a star, is played by the polished Adam Cotugno, who has some of the best solos in the show. Cotugno brings an amazing charm to the young man with a dream and his songs are all keen including “Oh Sherrie” the Steve Perry classic. Drew falls for the new girl off the bus, Sherrie, skillfully played by Allie Townsend, who might be a bit too cute and sweet after she makes her predictable transition to a call girl and pole dancer.
Townsend has a tender voice and Cotugno and her offer up some superb duets on the song list. “All I Want to Know What Love Is” keeps the two romantic leads at arms length from rocker Stacee Jaxx played by the awe-inspiring Brian Palac. A lively performance as they both show off their excellent voices and comic timing. Palac steals the show with his pitch perfect voice, even though he is a jerk, his entrance ballad “Wanted Dead or Alive” is fool proof; Palac brings the aging Rock star some real glitter.
ROCK OF AGES spoofs itself from the get go with Lonny flirting with the audience as he reminds 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, Stacee Jaxx, played with the best narcissistic camp by the excellent Palac. Jaxx continues his set with “Cum On Feel the Noize” and Brian shows his passionate 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 Hertz and his son Franz played with the perfect level of lovable evil by Michael Markovich and the camp excellent Juan Castro. Hertz wants to demolish and rebuild the Bourbon Room club that is owned by Dennis DuPree, well played by the hard nose groovy Mark Flores. With hit songs from Slade, Europe, Asia, Pat Benatar, Styx, Foreigner, Survivor and Night Ranger (some of the hits that make you wave your arms) Flores and Holladay, powerhouse through the best musical moments.
Their duet of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” brings this number to life with the excellent cast who shine on set designer Fred Alim’s tinsel town multilevel Bourbon club full set.
Music Director Tim Roberts’ wig infested head banging band is on stage in Alim’s theme park like set and they easily entertain in front of a wall of rock amps. Roberts is up front with some impressive guitar solos with his band; Doug Lippi on drums, Alex Campbell on bass, Ed Riegelsberger on guitar and the savvy Cathy Snider on keyboard. The band is on stage the entire time and are involved and entertaining as the leads. Snider 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.
The adequate Cotugno brings a believable charm to Drew with his “I Wanna Rock” with the company-- it is fun, but director Hammond who also doubles as choreographer misses the mark with this show. Hammond’s direction is very busy and he keeps this show moving but as wonderful as his work is, the dance was sloppy and some in the company stumbled through some basic stage marching, hand waving predictable dance moves.
Tamara Cooper 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. But for the opening number Cooper and assistant Stacey Bell, have the company all in black tones, more goth style (maybe an Adamms family feel ). “Nothing But A Good Time” is more “go raiders”, but as the show progressed Cooper’s and Bell’s costumes became more glam and colorful. Jaxx covered in just his furs with a see through knit top, Drew in simple rock clothes, but later in a camp Boyz band look.
Alexis Lazear’s wigs become the 23rd member of this sharp company. The hair flips are the best, and rag tops on the band sloppy and funny, but do the job. Yet the mops on Flores and young ensemble member Jacob Rosen were distracting and poorly fit. Rosen does head up a vibrant ensemble of rockers including the dynamic Crystal Adams, Kyle Bobay, Quinn Kelty, Jessie Lukban, Reggie Reynolds, Mike Tran and Kelsey Villareal, who are all professional in their various roles of protesters, strippers, and club fans.
The ensemble brings down the house in “We Built This City” and sound designers David L Hobbs and Jeff Stevens keep the show loud and made sure all the hand mics blow the sound into the Fremont foothills. The sound team also created some marvelous sounds that follow Jaxx around including his visit to a urinal. Markovich as Hertz sings a great pop version of “Keep On Loving You” but the high energy fembot Juan Castro steals the show with his wonderful “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” with the ensemble. The featured cast includes some excellent talent: the strong versatile, Charles Anthony, is sleezy as Ja’Keith Grill, Drew’s weasel manager.
The awesome powerhouse Stephanie Baumann as Justice who runs the strip club brings it home with her girls in “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. The enjoyable local favorite Alycia Adame is Regina the sweetheart from the Mayor's office who forms a protest to save the club, she has an impressive solo in “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. The dapper Matt Kelty plays the bumbling Mayor, and the reporter who lusts after Jaxx is played by the leering Sarah Lodick. The pitch perfect Jorey Cantu plays Sherrie’s mom and brings home “Sister Christian” with Palac who also doubles as her father.
Assistant choreographer Chevy Slater help create some disappointing dance numbers but the erotic pole dancing and hair whipping 80’s eye popping dancing in the sex club worked well. Since most of the show can appear to be a rock concert Matthew O’Donnell’s lighting fits that bill, and works his magic to the follow spots on the Sunset Blvd and the flip rows of lights that backlight the rockers. The light design crew also sent flash lighters out to the audience to add that special “we want more” final number.
Vocal Director Janet Homes and her 22 member diverse company easily over power Roberts’ metal band and their voices are strong. Holladay’s voice as the explosive Lonny is always at 'scream your head' off volume, not sure how he keeps that up for the entire run. Holladay is up in the crowd breaking the 4th wall and keeping the crowd in stitches. Props by Phillip Anderson include plenty of bottles of bourbon for Jaxx, wine coolers for the love birds and a full size model of the new Sunset Blvd Hertz wants to build.
ROCK OF AGES is a sparkling fun summer 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 pizazz of “We Built This City”, and will win you over and is a bargain, based on all the other summer shows seating prices. If you bring your own wine coolers leave them in the outdoor lobby, but the venue does serve up snacks that you can take to your seats. Warm days this summer don’t always mean it ends up that way in the Fremont Foothills so dress warm and bring blankets for the second act. And look forward to a gnarly night that might even have some air-guitar at intermission and Jazz Hands to take you home.
Summer Festival Stage 1 productions Presents
'ROCK OF AGES'
By Chris D'Arienzo, drawn from rock and pop hits of the 1980s,
Music by Ethan Popp
Directed and Choreography by Kevin Hammond
Music Director Tim Roberts
Producers Christopher Booras, Debbie Ottersletter, and Jami Wallace
Only through: July 22nd
Gary Soren Smith Center,
Ohlone College, Fremont Ca.
Running time: 2.5 hours one intermission
Photo’s by Ravi Masand
VIDEO CLIP FROM SHOW