Let the Good and Bad Times Roll
Rock of Ages, a “jukebox musical” which is to say a musical that features popular songs from the past, opened this past weekend with an enormous amount of youthful energy in a joint production by the University of Washington-Tacoma’s theatre department and Tacoma Little Theatre.
In spite of the reference to the 1776 hymn Rock of Ages Cleft to me, with its scriptural implications that God is a Rock or “mighty fortress” upon which the faithful can depend, the period of music for Rock of Ages was the 1980’s Glam metal bands such as Styx, Journey, and Bon Jovi. It was written by Chris d’Arienzo with musical arrangement by Ethan Popp.
Opening in 2005 in L.A. Rock of Ages moved first to an off-Broadway production in 2008 and then played for 2,328 performances on Broadway as well as numerous performances all over the world.
There is a basic plot, saving the Bourbon Room, a bar music venue, in particular, and West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, in general, from a corrupt mayor and evil real estate developers, who just happen to be German. Since it is L.A. there is of course a subplot involving two wannabe Midwesterners following their ambitious dreams of becoming stars, as an actor for Sherrie and as a rock singer for Drew.
As things are wrapped up, the pursuit of the dream propels them forward, but the dream itself mutates into something less ambitious but more fulfilling for Sherrie and Drew, played by Annalise Martin and Vinny Contini respectively.
Although the musical is a tribute to the love people have for this type of rock music, encompassing both its energy and lyrics; however, there is also a sideline portraying the destructive side of rock stardom and its adulation. Ryan Colman, plays Stacee Jaxx, a hyper-sexualized rock icon, the lead singer of a band which is breaking up. Narcissistic and hedonistic to the “nth” degree, but with a good voice and a huge amount of energy Ryan as Stacee, got quite a few laughs, and of course got his comeuppance, for his exploitive sexual behavior and numerous other moral transgressions.
In the end, Sunset Strip is saved by protesters who appeal to the conscience of the son of the real estate developer. The alpha activist, Regina, played by Mari Roy put in a spectacular performance as the person who convinces the son, Franz, played by Camren Bleiber, to stand up to his evil father. Bleiler’s dancing was out of sight and the two had great chemistry.
The strength of the production was the spectacle created by the superb choreography by Ashley Roy, costuming, set and lighting as well as the nostalgia for the 80’s music, which the entire audience seemed to love. However, the performance I saw suffered because very often the music drowned out the lyrics of the singers and many of the actors and singers has such bad diction that they were often incomprehensible. Since many of the performers were young highly talented college students, I wonder why the director Maria-Tania Bandes B. Weingarden did not instruct them in how to speak clearly.
Although the audience seemed to love the music and seemed to recognize every single tune, I did not. I must confess I was familiar with only one of the names of the bands in the list, Bon Jovi. So unless you are a fan of 1980’s heavy metal “glam” bands” this might not be a show for you. Personally, I have not listened to any popular music since about 1970, which is an explanation for why I thought most of the music sounded the same.
But the audience gave it a standing ovation, and at times started lighting cigarette lighters, which I was told afterwards was a tradition. There were also a lot of extremely hilarious gags and Rock of Ages is not without a clear ethical message.
Rock of Ages, Joint Production of University of Washington and Tacoma Little Theatre. 210 N I St. Tacoma, WA 98403. Fri, Sat. 7:30, Sun 2:00 PM til March 26. Pay What You Can: Thursday, March 16th at 7:30pm; ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, March 26, 2023 at 2:00pm. Ages 13 +