Theatre in Review

For Chicagoans that grew up in the 1980’s music scene, we remember favorite rock clubs such as The Thirsty Whale, Chances R and Dirty Nellies where spandex and rayon were the materials of choice and eye-liner on Aqua-net sprayed, long-haired guys was all the rage. For the glam rock scene, Chicago was always the minor league affiliate (Single A) to its Los Angeles big brother, where new bands seemingly broke out nearly every week. Almost grinding hair bands out akin to a factory assembly line, Los Angeles set the bar for rock bands all across the world, its clubs The Whiskey a Go Go, Troubadour and The Roxy stepping stones for the next big thing. In “Rock of Ages” the hilarious 1980's musical, we are taken to Los Angeles where the fictional Bourbon Room, one of the last rock hold outs, is under the threat of eminent domain as big money developers have other plans for the property.

Club owner Dennis (riotously played by Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt) runs The Bourbon Room with his sidekick and fellow rocker Lonny (Nick Druzbanski), who also serves as the play’s narrator. Realizing the club’s days are numbered, the two decide to go all out by bringing back Arsenal, a major band that got the start from The Bourbon Room, to play their final show with lead singer and egomaniac, Stacee Jaxx, who is off to pursue a solo career.

And what would an 80’s musical be without a cheesy love story? Bar back and aspiring musician, Drew, is instantly love struck when Dennis hires Sherrie (of course a hopeful actress) to be the club’s new waitress. From there we root for The Bourbon club, along with those protesting the new corporate development, and also for Drew and Sherrie to find love.

“Rock of Ages” is a fun time capsule filled with 80’s rock classics that includes Warrant’s “Heaven”, Journey’s “Don’t stop Believin’”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Extreme’s “More than Words” and many, many more. Though a parody of the era, “Rock of Ages” is an entertaining tribute to an age in music that, though considered kitschy by some, left a major impact in the world of music. The musical makes several 80’s refences that can’t help but make us forty-to-fifty-somethings laugh, such as Drew’s date with Sherrie where he tries to romance her with a four-pack of Bartles & James wine coolers.

The show boasts as good of a cast as one could ask for. Adam Michaels as self-aggrandizer and vulgar lead singer, Stacee Jaxx, is absolutely hysterical in the role. His moments are plenty as he puts on full display his great knack for physical comedy along with some pretty raging vocals. And as one who has seen this production more times than I remember, I can say quite confidently that Nick Druzbanski may just be the best Lonny I have seen yet. Druzbanski really fires on all cylinders and is a comedic whirlwind, also contributing nicely with strong vocals, certainly deserving a Fogmaster 5000 for a performance nothing short of outstanding.

Notable vocal performances are aplenty in this production with both Cherry Torres as Sherrie and Russell Mernaugh as Drew impressing with their singing prowess in number after number. Both skilled singers as they are actors, Torres and Mernaugh also spark a wonderful chemistry and are able to deliver plenty of funny moments. Though many, other performances of note are Donica Lynn, who sings beautifully when called upon and Nick Cosgrove who nails the role of Franz, the flamboyant German son of developer Hertz, who draws a laugh in just about every scene he occupies.

“Rock of Ages” is silly fun. It’s a campy drive down memory lane. It’s highly recommended. It’s also part concert, as a live band plays from a stage upon the stage throughout the show, tasty guitar licks and all. For some, they will relive the highly memorable era, for others they will receive a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of a time when the Los Angeles rock scene churned out hair bands like Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt.

With Falls theatrical productions in full bloom, this is a must see.

“Rock of Ages” is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through October 15th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

What’s better than a love story? Answer - A love story that takes place on the Los Angeles strip in the mid to late 1980’s during the height of hair band pandemonium. But what makes it even better is that Rock of Ages is a hilarious ode to such an important (though often mocked) musical era, filled with some of the most memorable rock songs of that era performed with plenty of spandex and Aquanet.

The story begins with a stereotypical approach. Drew,“born and raised in south Detroit”, has moved to L.A. in the hopes of fulfilling his dream as a rock star. Sherrie has moved to the City of Angels to become an actor. In the meantime, both are working at the infamous Bourbon Room while waiting for the opportunity to hit it big. At the same time, big time band Arsenal is losing their lead singer, Stacee Jaxx, for a solo career and the Bourbon Room is hosting their final show. If that’s not enough, plans are in the making to tear down the L.A. strip to have it replaced with shopping malls. While all stories unfold – and intertwine – the audience is hit with one rocking song after another from bands Warrant, Styx, Twisted Sister, Night Ranger, Journey, Poison, Damn Yankees, Survivor and many more.

Rock of Ages is filled with one big production number after another. Sherrie, who is dynamically played by Shannon Mullen, and Drew, terrifically played by Dominique Scott, team up together for power ballads “Can You Take Me Higher” and “The Search is Over” with the passion intended by the songs’ writers. With 28 songs to work with, we are given a host of creative renditions sung by a variety of interesting characters including Bourbon Club owner Dennis Dupree (Brian Ashton Miller) and “Franz” (Tanner Hussar) the oppressed son of the real estate developer that threatens the strip’s existence.

As much passion is inserted into each song is also a humorous element. And as blown away as the crowd is by Dominique’s vast vocal range and array of powerful notes, we are also taken with the stellar performance of Andrew Sklar who plays “Lonny” the soundman for the Bourbon Room but more importantly – the show’s narrator.

Whether you are a product of the 1980’s hair band scene or not, this is a show that everyone will enjoy.

“Rock of Ages”, currently playing at the Bank of America Theatre (18 W. Monroe), is loaded with funny characters and contains big, sexy dance numbers. Guitarist Paul Wiley (who shreds) leads the live band (also doubling as Arsenal) as they play all music from the rear of the stage, giving the show a real feel of a rock concert.

Whether looking to reminisce about your glam rock days gone past or if you are looking to simply rock out to a super fun show, “Rock of Ages” truly“ain’t nothing but a good time”.       

Campy, fun, sexy and totally rocking, “Rock of Ages” is playing at Bank of America Theatre through March 16th. For more information visitwww.broadwayinchicago.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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