ROCK OF AGES review

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The 1980’s and its music has moved into the Times Union Center in downtown Jacksonville with Chris D’Arienzo’s blast from the past musical, “Rock of Ages.” You can experience for the first time or relive the music of the era in this fast-paced show, onstage through Sunday April 7, 2013 at the Times-Union Center. The run includes evening weeknight shows and four shows on the weekend; Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sunday at 1:30 PM and 7:00 PM. Call (904) 442-2929 or visit www.artistseriesjax.org for tickets.
This musical opened Off-Broadway and moved to the Great White Way in 2009. It was nominated for five Tony Awards. The London production was a smash hit. It was made into a not so successful movie in 2012 apparently because film could not really capture the excitement of live performances.
“Rock of Ages” takes us back to the nightclub scene on the strip in downtown Los Angeles in the 80’s. It may seem like a musical revue since there are 33 songs listed in the music credits in the program for the TU production, and indeed you will hear songs made famous by legends like Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi, Foreigner and Journey, just to name a few. The opening night audience included many hip music fans who sang or waved along to many of the songs.
You ask, is there a plot or story? Yes, it is about two young performers with stars in their eyes who want to succeed in a very, very competitive business. Drew (Dominique Scott) wants to use the name Wolfgang and become a famous rock singer and yes, he has the pipes to do it. Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) falls in love with Drew and wants to be an actress; she has the looks and can also dance and belt out a song.
Lonny (Justin Colombo) is the narrator of this tale, and works for the strip’s famous Bourbon Club. He is the funny man in the show, who can sing and dance. He also uses colorful bawdy language, so leave the kids at home for this one.
A few subplots stand out. Hertz (Philip Peterson), a German developer and his son Franz want to demolish the strip and rebuild it. Stephen Michael Kane as the very effeminate son Franz was definitely a crowd favorite. Protest groups led by Regina (Megan McHugh), carry signs with demands that include “Rock not Rubble” and “Strippers-Not Strip Malls”. The owners of the club discuss ideas to revive the area; one was particularly intriguing, although not accepted: naked jello wrestling on Thursday nights. What they did bring in was a heavy-metal star Stacee Jaxx (Universo Pereira) who has a fantastic voice and derails the Drew and Sherrie romance for a while. Sherrie has to leave the Bourbon Club, and begins working as a dancer at a “gentlemen’s club” under the guidance of owner Justice (Amma Osei).
The staging of this musical extravaganza is outstanding. A video screen above center stage projects views of Los Angeles that include lots of palm trees and colorful sunsets, and illuminates the action on stage. The costumes are very colorful and in some cases very brief. The cast of seventeen plus five musicians are all in sync and very talented in their endeavors. The decibel levels get rather high at times, but surprising enough, even though this is rock for the most part, the musicians rarely overpower the vocals. Expect a light show along with all the music, with some of the dancing lights spilling out into the audience but only briefly; you won’t need your sunglasses.
The plot of this high energy creation is enough to provide humor and colorful characters and string together all those songs. Again this is for mature audiences recommended for ages 14+, especially those who remember the hard living 80’s and its rock and roll heritage. This is a jukebox musical that really works. Don’t miss it.

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