'ROCK OF AGES' IS “DON’T STOP BELIEVIN” HIGH ENERGY HEAD BANGING JUKEBOX
AT FULL VOLUME GLAM
The Bourbon club is now open at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton as the hair whips and 80’s glam rock is at full throttle this spring at Pacific Rep Theatre's polished production of ROCK OF AGES. A power pop rock jukebox musical now on stage at PCRT through May 13th. 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 rousing party rocking cast and a visually first rate creative team that makes this romp a must see as part of your spring 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 have seen the godfather of jukebox musicals MAMMA MIA that set off the run of many others including JERSEY BOYS. Director Jansen Jeffrey says “Jukebox musicals are nothing new - one quick look at the list of shows coming to Broadway also that they are not going away anytime soon - ROCK OF AGES hits for me in a big way because it is through and through a love letter to glam rock of the 80’s.” This company of ROCK OF AGES features a cast of 14 local actors that have a blast bringing this jukebox of Rock a “Can’t Fight This Feeling” celebration 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 as the janitor in a lounge “Bourbon Street” on the Sunset Strip. Drew played by the terrific Kamren Mahaney is the young rocker looking for a chance to rock the stage rather than sweep it. Sherrie played by the superb Lizzie Moss gets off the bus in LA with her suitcase and dreams of landing a part in the movies.
From its first Steve Perry song “Anyway You Want It” this hair romp is entertaining. Director Jeffrey teamed a young, excellent cast to blow out the Firehouse Playhouse with some silly decadence and delightful debauchery. The marvelous over the top Joe Hudelson plays Lonny, the narrator, who breaks down that fourth wall and charms the hyped audience, his voice is booming and his songs dynamic. Hudelson 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 you only want more of these classic songs.
The uptight, greedy German property developer Hertz and his son Franz played with the perfect level of lovable evil by Steve Wilner and the camp excellent Mario Mazzetti. Hertz wants to demolish and rebuild the Bourbon Room club that is owned by Dennis DuPree, well played by the hard nose, groovy David Erik Peterson. The show includes hit songs like “Just Like Paradise”,”Wanted Dead Or Alive”, “The Final Countdown”, and “Harden My Heart.” Peterson and Hudelson powerhouse through the best musical moments. The awesome powerhouse Tanika Baptiste as Justice who runs the strip club brings it home with her girls in “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”
The enjoyable local favorite Shelby Stewart 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.” One of the many roles that the marvellous Rod Voltaire Edroa plays is the bumbling Mayor who uses any means to win the Bourbon room. The reporter who lusts after Jaxx is played by the leering Chelsey Ristaino. The gifted Baptiste also plays Sherrie’s mom and brings home “Sister Christian” with Moss, Mahaney, and Edwards who makes an early appearance as Sherrie’s dad. Dennis Dupree with his assistant Lonny have the amazing idea to book the band Arsenal with rock star Stacee Jaxx for their last big gig in order to boost sales.
Mahaney brings an amazing charm to the young man with a dream and his songs are all keen including “Oh Sherrie” and the show stopping “I Wanna Rock”. Moss has a tender voice and Mahaney 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 buffed airhead, James Royce Edwards. Both Edwards and Kamren stop the show with their powerhouse voices. Jaxx is a womanizing jerk even though his opening ballad “Wanted Dead or Alive” is fool proof; Edwards brings the aging Rock star some real glitter.
Jaxx, played with the best narcissistic camp by the excellent Edwards continues his set with “Cum On Feel the Noize” as he shows off his bully pride to his band who dislikes him. Sherrie and Drew discover that everything isn't as good as it seems in the glam world of rock including the Jaxx’s ego.
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. The accomplished Nicole Helfer created the dance numbers, and hair whipping 80’s eye popping dancing is highlighted in “Here I Go Again” that closes the first act - driven by the classic theatre Jazz Hands that Lonny is excited to present.
Dennis and Lonny also sing “Can’t Fight This Feeling” with the excellent cast who shine on AD’s David Judson’s rock and multilevel stage for the Bourbon Club. Lenee Madera props filled the bar with the 80’s glam needed and the side office 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. Music Director Patt Parr’ and his wig infested head banging on stage band include Kevin Seal, Craig Dunlap, Danny Min, Michael Cross, Ken Bergman and lead guitar and showman, Steve Danska. I mention the entire band since they do become a character in this party. Seal 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 ensemble brings down the house in “We Built This City” and sound designer Karl Haller kept the show loud and made sure all the body mics blow the sound to downtown Pleasanton. Wilner as Hertz sings a great pop version of “Keep On Loving You” but the high energy fembot Mazzetti steals the second act with his wonderful “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” with the ensemble.
Jeffrey’s direction is very busy he keeps this show moving in a constant party mode.
Margaret daSivla’s 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 with his buffed bod through his knit tops, Drew is in simple rock clothes and that classic wallet chain on most of the guys. Later Mahaney is dressed in a camp Boyz band look as he hires a weasel manager also played by the versatile Edora.
The number “Nothing But A Good Time” is a romp with Helfer’s wonderful glam dance moves. The hair flips are the best, and rag tops high boots, hair spray and knee high boots do the job. Local favorite Edora also heads up a vibrant ensemble of rockers including the dynamic Corrie Farbstein, Scott Taylor Cole, and Chelsey Ristaino who are all professional in their various roles of protesters, strippers, and club fans. Hudelson is up in the crowd breaking the 4th wall and keeping the crowd in stitches and proving he loves “Jazz Hands”.
Stage manager Anastasia Wirth help create the rock concert mood getting the busy cast on and off stage and through their many audience appearances. Since most of the show can appear to be a rock concert Kevin August Landesman’s lighting fits that bill, and works his magic with the follow spots on the Sunset Blvd and the flip rows of lights that backlight the rockers. The light also comes from the sold out weekend audience as they show their cell phones to add that special “we want more” during the final number.
The show is big, polished pizazz ROCK OF AGES is a sparkling fun spring glam show, and it may not appeal to all, but nightly audiences are on their feet at the end of each performance singing the closing number "Don't Stop Believin.” ROA and the head banging company 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. Look for PCRT Eight Season announcement of shows for 2018 and 2019 that includes MAMMA MIA. But in the meantime look forward to a gnarly night that might inspire some air-guitar at intermission and Jazz Hands to take you home.
PACIFIC COAST REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS
'ROCK OF AGES'
By Chris D'Arienzo, from rock and pop hits of the 1980s,
Music by Ethan Popp
Directed by Jansen Jeffrey
Choreography by Nicole Helfer
Music Director Pat Parr
Artistic Director David Judson
Must close May 13th
Firehouse Arts Center
Running time: 2.5 hours one intermission
Photo’s by Berenice Ku Sullivan.
VIDEO CLIP STANDING O
Just announced May 9th by David Judson
"I am beyond thrilled to announce that Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre (www.pcrtproductions.org) will be producing Mama Mia! January and February 2019 at the Firehouse Arts Center in downtown Pleasanton. Many more details to follow. Auditions will be announced within one week. Stay tuned!! So excited."