Brief North Stage blasts into its 11th season with a riotous, loving production of Chris D’Arienzo (book) and Ethan Popp (arrangements and orchestrations)’ ’80s glam rock jukebox musical Rock of Agesdirected and choreographed by Edward Carignan and Dionysia Williams.
Our guide in Rock of Ages’ Cartoon Sunset Strip is Lonny Barnett (Michael Bojtos), soundman (or as he puts it, “Sound God”) for musician-turned-Bourbon Room owner Dennis Dupree (Luke Bovenizer). Barnett breaks the fourth wall when he introduces us to young lovers from Central America: Drew Boley (Dale Saunders), rock star potential and struggling bartender, and aspiring actress/new waitress Sherrie Christian (Shelby Zimmerman). At the same time, mall magnate Hertz (Krista Stauffer) and her son Franz (Nick Hardin) have plans to “clean up” the Strip with a wrecking ball and a briefcase full of cash to the Mayor (SERMONTEE BROWN) over objections Regina (Rachel Hertenstein) and the rock club scene corresponds directly to the strip joint Venus Club run by almost established disco diva Justice Charlier (Tirzah Hawley).
That storyline – which of course also has a rock star who thinks he can solo, Stacee Jaxx (Jarod Bakum), another ready to take his place, Joey Primo (Jeff Fouch), and a sleazeball manager, Ja’keith Gill ( J’Quay Gibbs) making the most of her moments on stage – is a framework to hang on these songs, which have the Technicolor emotion of the lyrics and the soaring, seedy melodies and the videos that many of us got through first .
Carignan and Williams’ production uses those broad strokes—and a set full of determined touches from Antonio Dibernardo—to tap into the bursting, oversaturated enthusiasm of youth. Let’s giggle at the absurdity while at the same time having an open heart and feeling that everything Affairs The way everything seems desperately important at 21. Bojtos strikes the perfect tone while his character breaks the fourth wall, reminding us (and sometimes the characters) And hip-thrust always saying, “This is a party.”
The sense of the party and just enough emotional weight to remind us what made these songs the soundtracks of jukeboxes, back seats and MTV in the background preparing to go out for so many years is also conveyed by musical director Jonathan Immeasurably supported (guiding behind the keys) Collura and his tight five-piece band, including the grinding, swaying guitars of J. Damon Barnett and Eric Stratton and the crunching, swinging rhythm section of Sara Smith and Anthony Dake.
One of the show’s great delights is how it ties unrelated songs together. Collura’s band navigates these harmonic connections and interlocking grooves in a way that feels organic, often having me sit up and say, “Wait, we got it here?” With an enthusiastic grin on my face, I noticed that Carignan and Williams’ choreography clicked with that shift, creating a seamless world for these characters to pit themselves against one another.
Starship’s “We Bau This City,” which is woven into dialogue by Stauffer, Brown, and Hertenstein, bouncing back and forth with Botjos, Bovenizer, and Bakum’s hand-clapping dork on Styx’s too much time on my hands was in the wave a favorite moment of this strip for me. “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “We Won’t Take It” appear as recurring motifs in large ensemble numbers during the first act, which culminated in a roof-blow reprise medley. A wild read of Joan Jett’s “Hate Myself for You” by Zimmerman as a lap dance revenge beatdown is combined with Asia’s “heat of the moment” in a way that makes the show do it in ways I didn’t see coming.
Saunders and Zimmerman’s palpable chemistry and blending of their voices to high-pitched ballads like “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and Damn Yankees’ “High Enough” still captures that intense, earnest yearning of the best of this music: I heard two women sit near me sotto voce Sing along at several moments throughout the show and it was adorable rather than annoying.
For a show – and music – so desperate for youth, Rock of Ages A good job doesn’t demonize the adults we can see. Bojtos and Bovenizer balance their characters’ seedy elements with a sentiment younger people instill in them and a tongue-in-cheek understanding of how important they are to the world they love, which is what brought them to LA and into a rock scene in the first place. The benevolent ringleader is an important part of a multigenerational scene, and it’s not a type that gets a lot of coverage in the media. So it’s wonderful to have two shining examples here. The same goes for Hawley, who also sang my eyebrows with her vocal judgment/tempting Zimmerman on “Harden My Heart/Shadows of the Night”. As close as the play gets to a villain – and I’m someone who’s watched many of the rock clubs that nurtured me in my youth give way to the wrecking ball or the more mundane death of high rents and “cleaning up the neighborhood.” Stauffer has a ball With the bossy Hertz and gets a fun showcase when the facade cracks on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Carignan and Williams’ choreography throughout is top notch. The crack ensemble moves from what I consider genre backup dances to balletic exhibitions about the characters’ inner lives in such an organic way, it challenged my beliefs that those two things should ever be separated in my mind . One of my favorite moments from it came with a Greek choir style commentary by Lisa Glover and Chrissy Stridsberg out The stripper pole in the second act (pole choreography also by Glover).
I have to admit: I didn’t get in Rock of Ages With everyone fond of these songs except the Joan Jett. I grew up with everyone; I was surprised to find how many of them I remembered in more detail than I ever expected. But my interest in David Coverdale basically stops with his two records introducing themselves with deep purple and the only version of “Cum on Feel the Noize” I’ve ever owned The best of Slade.
Even with those prejudices, I went out, I went out Completely charmed and grinning like an idiot. My companion—my mother—who was in her mid-20s when these songs came out, and I was in single digits, and the people around me who were similarly more positive with the material were just as enthusiastic and enthralled as I have always been an audience in the Garden and seen for good reason.
Rock of Ages Runs through August 14 with performances at 7pm Thursday through Saturday and 2pm Sunday. For tickets and more information visit shortnorthstage.org/rock-of-event.