Reviewed by Nancy McKenzie Oliveri
What was a girl to wear to a Broadway-caliber show, on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) no less, that promised to rock her and the rest of the audience right back to the wonderfully raunchy, tasteless decade of the ’80s?
For this girl, in her mid 50s, it meant faking it in black leggings, knee boots, a stretchy, black, not-too-mini skirt, red jacket with too many snaps, and an animal print scarf. Fetching, right?
But this review isn’t about me, although the highest praise I can give the touring company production of Rock of Ages is that it sure made me feel that the show was somehow about me, and everyone else in the house, and that I was right at home in that getup.
Oh, and sexy? Aw, yeah… but with a hilariously over-the-top portrayal of the raw, crotch-grabbing, bring-it-on days of the rockers of the decade — Quiet Riot, Pat Benatar, Guns ‘N Roses, Starship, Styx, Foreigner and more.
If there was a small smile on my face when I got there, a big grin was plastered across my mug when I left The Forum in Binghamton, remembering all the fun 1980s references, such as wine coolers, filthy dive bars and mosh pits. Those were the days!
The story of Rock of Ages, by Chris D’Arienzo, takes some of the most entrenched anthems of the ’80s and crafts a classic love story around them: Girl (Sherrie) leaves home to pursue her dream in L.A., meets a boy (Drew) with a dream of his own, breaks his heart for a bigshot rocker (Stacie Jaxx) who doesn’t deserve her attention and then, of course, finds Drew again in the end. It’s like watching one long, crazy music video bolstered by some great characters who move the story and its subplots along. the show is woven together with swift choreography, creative scene changes, an extravaganza of lights, an “awesome, dude: house band (Arsenal) and — oh, yes — ROCK ’N ROLL!!
Where else can you go to a musical,and know every song before you even know they are going to include it (unless you saw the movie, which I’ve heard, didn’t work as well as the stage show)? I glanced around and saw many a mouth move along with Nothin’ But a Good Time, I Wanna Rock, Any Way You Want It, Cum on Feel the Noize, Wanted, Dead or Alive, Too Much Time on My Hands and We Built This City (on Rock and Roll).
Better yet, and still moving after all these years, are the ballads … oh, the ballads: Sister Christian, More Than Words, Waiting For a Girl Like You, I Want to Know What Love Is, Every Rose Has its Thorns, Heaven and, of course, Oh Sherrie. One of the most touching scenes, though, is when Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) sings through her sorrow with Harden My Heart, a song that never fails to move me (and which, my husband reminded me, is not Pat Benatar, but Quarterflash.
Stephen Michael Kane, a graduate of Chenango Forks High School, has a triumphant return home, playing the son of the German developer who wants to ruin the fun for everyone. Kane steals the show, and I say that not just because of local pride. He is wonderful as the flamboyantly “not gay, just German” kid, Franz, who cracks up the house in his rebellious health club workout number, Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot. He has a fantastic voice and an amazing stage presence, and is great romantic counterpart to the activist Regina (“pronounced re GI na”), played by the talented, Megan McHugh.
Lonny, the show’s narrator, played by Justin Colombo, graduated from Ithaca College, and reminded me a lot of Jack Black (School of Rock). He kept the audience up-to-date about what was not only going to happen next, but why it was important in the context of a musical. There are a lot of laughs in this show and Colombo provided many of them.
The “bromance” between him and Arsenal’s producer, Dennis (Jacob L. Smith), is a show-stopper, and blossoms with The Search is Over, even though Dennis dies (but doesn’t know it). Toward the end, he shows up in angel wings for the Don’t Stop Believin’ finale, which brought the audience to an arm-waving, standing ovation. I didn’t want it to end.
If this tour ever comes back to town — and I hope it will — treat yourself to “nothing but a good time.” (If you can’t wait that long, it’s still playing on Broadway.) Just don’t forget what a gem we have in the Broadway Theatre League, which brings these fantastic shows to town for a fraction of the Big Apple admission — and in walking distance to to some pretty great restaurants, too.