SAINT GEORGE — From the moment I walked into the Electric Theater, it was easy to think that I was attending an actual rock concert. Under the guidance of director Venny Carranza, music director Amy Gleave, and choreographers Mic Thompson and Tino Smith, a rock concert is exactly what The Stage Door delivered with Rock of Ages.
The jukebox musical Rock of Ages opened in 2009 on Broadway, where it ran for more than five years, and was even adapted into a 2012 film. Chris D’Arienzo‘s script and Ethan Popp’s arrangements and orchestrations of classic hits from the pinnacles of 80s rock — such as Bon Jovi, Journey, Poison, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, and other rock singers — follows a well-trod dramatic plotline that is typical of an ’80s or ’90s film. After all, the play’s narrator (Lonny) says that the show was not written by “Andrew Lloyd Sondheim,” though he does at one point look through an iconic yellow covered book entitled Musical Theater for Dummies. Rock of Ages does not aim for greatness in its story, and yet it is still enjoyable to viewers.
Drew (played by Eric Humphries) is just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit (“Michigan!”), currently living in Los Angeles and working in the seedy Sunset Strip bar, The Bourbon Room. Despite sweeping floors and endless cleanup duty, he dreams of becoming a rock star. Then, who should walk into his life but just a small-town girl named Sherrie (portrayed by Juliet Lorentzen), looking to make it big as an actress. And before these two characters are able to reveal their undeniable feelings for each other, unforeseen obstacles (such as a self-absorbed rockstar and a duo of German developers looking to demolish the Strip) comes between them.
With incredible lighting and scenic design by Josh Scott, as well as the talent of a live band, the energy of the room is palpable. The Electric Theater stage is a tricky space to mount a show in, and at first glance, with two building sides surrounding the band’s central platform, it did not look like a lot of people would be able to share the space. But this first impression was deception; Carranza was ingenious in the variety of staging he employed. Not only was the whole cast at times able to be on stage together, but the set itself was truly transformative, depending on the location of the scene.
As tends to be the way with jukebox musicals, the storyline is second to the music and the power of the live band (with Gleave on the keyboard, Dave Andersen on first guitar, Tommy Walker on second guitar, Ed Candland on bass, and Rowena Webb on drums), however the cast was excellent on delivering character portrayals.
Michael Iorg was absolutely magnetic as Lonny, the eccentric and impish narrator who would just appear at random points in the show to add humor and bridge the gap between patrons and actors. Iorg’s performance was captivating and aided Tonya Christensen’s costume design in transporting the audience to that “sexier time” known as the late 20th century. Lonny’s duet of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” with Jeremy Poston’s Dennis Dupree was one of the many comedic highlights of the show.
As Drew, Humphries (whose look was really influenced by Steve Perry) captured the earnestness and desire of “I Wanna Rock!” that the character demanded. His incredible vocal range definitely helped in this endeavor, and seeing him actually play guitar on stage at times was impressive! But with Drew’s ambition also came this sweetness in his scenes with Sherrie that one couldn’t help but love Drew and sympathize with him when nothing seemed to go his way. As Sherrie, Lorentzen has deep character development as one of the only straight woman in the myriad of wild characters. After a heartbreaking, though predictable, encounter with the aforementioned self-absorbed rock star, the once naïve and sweet Sherrie is forced to “Harden My Heart” (which was one of the many songs in which her versatile voices shone through) and join the Gentlemen’s club, The Venus. It was oddly reminiscent of a certain Pat Benatar music video.
Dan Fowlks brilliantly played Stacee Jaxx, the lead singer of the band Arsenal. If there was ever an intolerable egomaniac that regrettably had talent (which was more than evident in Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”), it would be Stacee Jaxx. Fowlks completely embodied the egocentric rockstar in every aspect: the swaggering gait (aided by the copious amount that Jaxx drank throughout the show), his demeanor of being the best thing to grace the planet (in his mind, anyway), the multiple tattoos on his torso and arms (completing that bad boy image and dark temptation allure that he loves), and his interactions with others, whether it be demeaning other men or seducing every woman he clapped his eyes on. Fowlks created this character that I loved to hate.
Other incredible performers included Stefenie Frisbie as Madame “Mama” Justice Charlier, who exuded sexiness from the moment she stepped on stage and sang in her own smooth Southern style. True to the nickname “mama” that all the girls that work for her call her, she guides and encourages Sherrie to follow her heart in her gorgeous rendition of Poison’s “Every Rose Has its Thorn.” Never to be excluded are the father and son German developers, Hertz and Franz (respectively played by Dean Jones and Coy Andrew Shin, Jr.), who are the plot’s driving force and their own comedic performances, including a neon-clad “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Finally, one of the play’s most comedic characters, Regina (played by Christine France), was the most stalwart protestor of the demolition of the Strip, in her repetition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Some of the highlights came from the director’s decision to involvement the audience in the story (such as Lonny’s commentary or Regina handing out flyers as she sped down an aisle of the Electric Theater). Even the band got to be part of the action. They actually delivered lines (some of them very memorable and explicit) and interacted with the cast throughout the show. And from a technical perspective, Rock of Ages is a very difficult show, but The Stage Door’s crew ran a successful and fun show with its vastly creative lighting and superb sound mixing for the live band and the singers’ microphones.
My only problem with Rock of Ages was that I reviewed the show too late. The iconic rock show has finished its run, but its impact remained on the smiling faces of exiting patrons. . . and their vocal cords.