Review: You Wanna Rock!

Rock of Ages, the Musical is currently running at the 5th Avenue Theatre through February 24, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.

Look out Seattle; we are going back to the 1980’s! It was a time of headbands, leg warmers, and AC/DC t-shirts. The decade gave the country inspiration for big hair and great music. It is the music that makes up the spine of the 5th Avenue’s production, Rock of Ages. This jukebox musical uses the tunes of Whitesnake, Poison, Jefferson Starship, and others while weaving a (basic) story connecting the songs.

Rock of Ages takes place (mostly) at the Bourbon Room, an iconic bar on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard that caters to the hardcore rock ‘n’ rollers of the time. An innocent girl named Sherrie arrives in LA with dreams of being an actress. She meets Drew who works at the Bourbon Room as barback. His dream is to be a huge rock star under the name Wolfgang Von Cult. A German urban planner wants to take over The Strip and make it a modern complex, destroying and erasing the rock music history and home. While Drew and Sherrie try to overcome the pitfalls of romance, the Bourbon Room’s owner and supporters decide, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and fight back with the anthem “We Built This City on Rock and Roll”.

Rock legend Mickey Thomas (center) as Dennis and the cast of Rock of Ages at The 5th Avenue Theatre  (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)
Rock legend Mickey Thomas (center) as Dennis and the cast of Rock of Ages at The 5th Avenue Theatre (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

The Rock of Ages cast all do a good job, not taking themselves too seriously and literally winking at the audience, inviting us to join the fun. Hertz (Nick DeSantis) and son Franz (Nik Hagen) form the team of German developers wanting to destroy The Strip. Nick DeSantis is fun as the strict father. He tries to show love for his son but can’t understand his son’s differences. Nik Hagen plays Franz (as the character is written) completely over the top, and does it well. Hagen makes the character endearing to the audience and we quickly start to root for him. His character is often the comic relief of the show, and Nik Hagen plays it with great flair.

The character “Regina” (rhymes with vagina) is played by Sara Porkalob. Starting as part of the government, she becomes the leader of the rock ‘n’ roll resistance. Ms. Porkalob is absolutely adorable in the role. She embraces the attitude with charm in a mixture similar to a teddy bear dressed as Che Guevara. Her voice is strong especially when leading the rebellious anthem, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

Stacey Jaxx (played by Brandon O’Neill) is the hardcore rock star that’s the lead singer of the band “Arsenal”, and getting ready to start his solo career. O’Neill does a great job with the perfect amount of lewdness and charisma for singing “Dead or Alive”. The special guest star of Rock of Ages is the lead singer of the group Starship, Mickey Thomas. Mr. Thomas plays the Bourbon Room’s owner Dennis. There’s no question that his voice handles the songs with a lifelong career’s experience; being the man that sang several hits and an Oscar nominated song. It’s an odd coincidence, that while his character joins in the group singing of “We Built This City”, his is NOT the character singing the lead; a song that in reality Mr. Thomas drove to becoming a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

The central lovebirds are Drew (Galen Disston) and Sherrie (Diana Huey). Disston plays the rock star wannabe with gusto. His voice is strong (especially since he is lead singer of the Seattle band Pickwick) and handles the harsh range of the hard metal music “I Wanna Rock” as well as the more tender, “Oh Sherrie”. Disston is perfectly matched opposite Ms. Huey. She shows the innocent girl, hardened by the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, with a graceful transition. When the two sing the duet “I Want to Know What Love Is”, it rings with a synergetic connection.

The real star of this show is “Lonny” the unofficial narrator played by Dane Stokinger. Mr. Stokinger adds the right amount of sexual ambiguity and attitude that recreates the stereotype rocker of the late 80’s. His voice is clear, his presence is strong and his character’s attitude is right on the mark. He is part narrator, part character, part comic relief and thoroughly enjoyable.

The storyline is simple, sometimes a bit coerced to fit with the music, but it is a jukebox musical. Rock of Ages is a fun, silly show that invites you to turn your brain off and enjoy the fluff – and the great music. It’s more of a Vegas type of musical (in fact, it originally did very well in Vegas) than a Broadway spectacular. No matter how you view it, Rock of Ages is entertaining and enjoyable – even if you aren’t a fan of the big haired, metal bands of the 1980’s, you’ll still have fun here. It’s not going to win any monumental awards for changing theatre, but it is what musicals are supposed to do; it gives escapism while providing good entertainment.

Rock of Ages first appeared on Broadway on March 17, 2009. After 2328 performances it closed on January 18, 2015. Originally starring Constantine Maroulis, the show was nominated for 5 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) during the 2009 season but didn’t win any of them. A (bad but guilty pleasure) film version was released in 2012 starring Tom Cruise as Stacey Jaxx, Alec Baldwin as the bar owner, and Catherine Zeta Jones as Regina.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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