The Dio has a great big hit on its hands — Rock of Ages, a celebration of rock music from the 80’s, opened this week, and it is a solid, funny, and professional looking and sounding show.
Director Steve DeBruyne has assembled a super-talented cast of performers. Kristin Renee Reeves has given them excellent choreography (the best I have seen at the Dio). Matt Tomich has designed a lovely bar-based set and done some wonders with lighting. Brian Rose has done very good work with musical direction. Norma Polk’s costume design is spot-on, as is Eileen Obradovich’s prop work. Chef Jarod has brewed up a delicious dinner, as always.
The musical surprisingly ran over 5 years NYC and had a highly successful tour. Lets talk about it for a moment — Written by Chris D’Arienzo and set in the 80’s, it follows a newcomer to LA Sherrie, who finds work at the Bourbon Room (a rock club), quickly falls in love with bar-back Drew (longing to be a rock star), and plays out just as the Mayor is about to close a deal to tear down “the strip” to sell out to German developer Hertz and his son Franz. Protestor Regina tries to stop the proceedings, while the manager and personnel at the Bourbon Room try to figure out a way to raise money, resulting in bringing in rock star Stacee Jaxx for his “final concert”. What follows in a basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back played out in this setting. Going deeper isn’t worth it — because the show is about the music — its all tied together with rock music of the era, including hits such as “We Built This City”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, and “Hit me with your Best Shot”. You get the idea.
The Broadway production was a booze infused 80’s rock love-fest (alcohol was sold at the theatre and flowed freely all night) — and that was not so evident at the Dio at Friday’s performance — although the audience enthusiastically gave the show a standing ovation so it clearly hit the right notes overall.
There are terrific performances from Kristin Renee Reeves and Christoper Kamm as Sherrie and Drew. They find excellent support in Greg Bailey as club-owner Dennis Dupree and Steve DeBruyne as right hand man (in more ways than one) Lonny Barnett. Elizabeth Jaffe plays “wacky” Regina Koontz (a very good performance in a thankless role – entirely rewritten for the movie for Catherine Zeta-Jones). Dan Morrison is a very solid and funny Hertz, while Jared Schneider is an outstanding Franz. Linzi Joy Thomas is fine indeed as Justice Charlier. Sean Philibin hits all the right notes as rocker Stacee. The rest of the excellent cast is comprised of Thomas Mate, Molly Cunningham, Brian Buckner, Natalie Rose Sevick, Tori Lynn Rogers, and Nick Pettengill — each very good in their multiple supporting roles and ensemble. Brian Rose leads a terrific 5-piece band.
If there is any quibble, from a director’s point-of-view, some of the pacing feels a bit slow — some throwaway scenes are played all-out, and where things can be tightened and overlapped, they play out line by line. There is also a lot of use of blackouts which I don’t recall from the production in NY and which seem to slow things down a bit.
Your like or dislike of the show itself will be highly dependent on your like (or dislike) of 80’s rock (note: rock, not pop). You won’t find fault with anything on stage – though its the raciest show the Dio has performed — its laced with 80’s style humorous obscenity, sexual references, and it is also very loud. I have to admit that I was a bit worried that the audience (many in their 60’s and older) would find the show off-putting — no need to worry there, they were the first to start the standing ovation last night — proving that new material, done well, will entertain audiences that you might otherwise find surprising. What the show itself is missing is the level of audience involvement found in NYC or on tour — but it worked very well even with a very different target market. Please be aware that this is not a show for the entire family, though quite frankly, there isn’t anything in it that your typical 14 year old hasn’t heard or seen countless times on cable tv, at school, or elsewhere.
Rock of Ages continues at the Dio through May 22nd. Tickets are selling very fast and many performances are sold out. Reserve your tables at diotheatre.com or 517-672-6009.
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