Following on the heels of Broadway Across America’s touring productions of Mary Poppins and Billy Elliot comes a wild, raunchy trip back to a time when men with mullets ruled the land. The days of neon and hairspray. Days…you aren’t likely to remember if you’re younger than twenty-three. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone immune to the thrills offered up by Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical chock-full of enough ‘80s anthems and cheese to get you cheering.
Dominique Scott stars as Drew, the shy, would-be rocker too hesitant to pursue his dream. Inspiration arrives in the form of Shannon Mullen’s Sherrie, an upbeat aspiring actress fresh from Kansas. Drew helps her land a job at the Bourbon Room where he buses tables, and she gives him the push he needs to take his talent to the stage. Though sparks begin to fly, their romance fizzles after an adorkable date complete with wine coolers and a vintage red Coleman cooler. Before they can reconnect, the youngsters are introduced to the ugly side of the entertainment industry and have to fight to survive the ups and downs of LA life unscathed.
Clearly, there’s nothing fresh or new in that premise, but as Rock’s narrator Lonny (Justin Colombo) points out, this isn’t some serious piece of theatre interested in exploring the human condition. This a show about ‘80s Rock first and foremost, so it’s best to check one’s brain at the door and just go with the flow as the energetic cast blasts their way through hits like Starship’s “We Built This City” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”. It makes for one heck of a show, but it can also be, at times, a little numbing. Directors Kristin Hanggi and Adam John Hunter fail to provide much variety in the pacing of the story, which, aside for the aforementioned date scene, seems to be operating at 110% for the better part of its two acts.
One also can’t help but wonder what might have resulted from losing the tired “urban redevelopment” subplot, which sees hippy Regina (Megan McHugh) protesting a German father/son duo (Philip Peterson and Stephen Michael Kane) hoping to demolish the Bourbon Room and rebuild the Sunset Strip as a pristine, respectable neighborhood. Though Kane delivers a delightfully over-the-top performance of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in the second act, it’s hard to make much sense of his character’s presence in the rest of the show. Trimming those elements down would have left some room for Amma Osei to really strut her considerable stuff. As Justice Charlier, the proprietor of a local strip club, she easily stands apart from the ensemble with her effortlessly bluesy vocals, adding a delightful new sound to the mix. Sadly, the plot is a little more concerned with providing self-absorbed Rock God Stacie Jaxx with something to do after he inadvertently breaks up our young couple. Universo Pereira definitely has the abs and the voice of a rock star, but Chris D’Arienzo’s book struggles to flesh the character into a wholly satisfying villain.
…not that it’ll keep crowds from feeling like they got their money’s worth out of this rollicking, Tony nominated show. Theatre St-Denis proves a terrific venue for the production, which often feels more like a concert, complete with awesome guitar solos and strobe lights. The deceptively simple set feels so grungy and familiar, you might easily mistake it for Andrew’s pub over on Guy. And, it must be said, Scott proves a perfect fit as Drew, with a performance that calls to mind the kind of gentle charm displayed by Nicholas Hoult as a zombie in Warm Bodies and Beast in X-Men: First Class. It’s easy to laugh at him, relate to him and root for him as he belts out the determined declaration, “I Wanna Rock” with pipes that prove he’s got what it takes.
So, go order yourself some tickets, tease that hair out and down some drinks before heading on over to Rock of Ages. You’re sure to spend your evening cheering and singing along, and frankly, the cast just won’t accept anything less.
Rock of Ages runs at Theatre St-Denis until March 3rd. For tickets, visit www.evenko.ca/en/show/event/rock-of-ages-6750 or call 514 790-1111.