Drury Lane Theatre

 Rock of Ages

At the Drury Lane Theatre

By Dan Zeff

Oakbrook TerraceA vast audience obviously exists for the musical “Rock of Ages.” The jukebox rock musical opened on Broadway in 2006 and ran for 2,328 performances. A Las Vegas edition ran for almost five years and the show has toured throughout the United States, including a stopover in Chicago in 2010. Plus the show has been staged throughout the world, including Australia and South Korea.

So any criticism of “Rock of Ages” may sound like carping by fuddy duddies too square to appreciate this survey if rock hits of the 1980’s, originally performed by groups with bizarre names like REO Speedwagon, Styx, Whitesnake, Poison, and Twisted Sister.

But the show has thrived and it certainly created a stir among first nighters at its revival at the Drury Lane Theatre. The whooping and hollering from the spectators was persistent and apparently heartfelt. One may note that the audience was considerably younger than the typical Drury Lane crowd.

Photo Credit: Brett Beiner

First, the good news. The Drury Lane production scores high on all the essential points that make this show work, at least musically. The cast sings up a storm (a very loud storm).  The energy and enthusiasm of the large ensemble certainly carried over into the audience. The choreography by Stephanie Klemmons (who has been associated with “Hamilton”) is awash in hard driving movement. A rousing feeling of sensory overload is conveyed from lighting designs by Greg Hofmann, costumes by Theresa Ham, sound by Ray Nardelli, and projection design by Rasean Devonte Johnson. And Miguel Armstrong was the wig and hair designer, responsible for the long hair that was part of the mandatory look of the beat generation.

The really good news is the performance by Cherry Torres as Sherrie, a petite dynamo who delivers the complete package. Torres is attractive, has a great stage presence, and can sing and dance with amazing stamina. She has stardom written all over her if she can find the right roles, and Sherrie definitely is a right role for her. There also is star quality in the backup dancers–Sharriese Hamilton, Annie Jo Ermel, Andrea Collier, John Edwards, Colte Julian, and Sawyer Smith. And Donica Lynn, in multiple roles, peeled the paint off the theater walls with her powerhouse singing.

Now for the somber news. “Rock of Ages” is a terrible show, or at least it’s terrible for viewers who expect a minimal level of narrative coherence. To my rock music tin ear, they all sounded the same, and the lyrics were too often drowned out by the overpowering electronic accompaniment. Some songs were attempts at advancing the action or character but most were sung directly to the audience, turning the production into a rock concert, which perhaps would have been its proper condition. Props to the five-member stage rock band (musical director Roberta Duchak) for their musicianship in serving up an almost constant stream of rock licks into an amplification system that takes no prisoners.

The plot, to use a courtly synonym, revolves around a rock club in Los Angeles operated by a scruffy beatnik named Dennis (Gene Weygandt). A couple aspiring young rockers, singer-dancer Sherrie and singer-composer Drew (Russell Mernagh), come to the club looking for jobs.  A romantic connection quickly ensues. About this time, a German developer named Hertz (George Keating speaking in a thick Prussian accent) arrives on the scene to make trouble. Hertz wants to demolish the club to make way for a major retail development. That sets the denizens of the bar into a panic, led by feminist-activist Regina (Tiffany Tatreau). Mudding the romantic waters is the appearance of an egotistical and over-sexed rock star named Stacee Jaxx (Adam Michaels) to hit on Sherrie and distress Drew.

Photo Credit: Brett Beiner

Serving variously as a master of ceremonies and a character in the story is Lonny (Nick Druzbanksi). The actor can sing and make us laugh but he is also hugely annoying, descending to lowest depths of comedy shtick to scratch easy laughs from the spectators. Even worse is Hertz’s son Franz (Nick Cosgrove), who goes way over the top in gay affectations. Why Hertz and son are written as cartoon Germans eluded me.

Director Scott Weinstein gets high marks for keeping the action at its consistent high velocity, though he allows too much mugging and low comedy to cheapen the performing. But no director can make much sense out of Chris D’Arienzo’s slapdash book. The show ran out of plot when it was barely into the second act and the result was a feeling that the act would never end, a fact pointed out by Lonny in one of the book’s few witty lines.

It will be interesting to see how “Rock of Ages” plays with the regular and conservative senior citizen Drury Lane patrons. They may love the show’s energy and forgive its foolery, and there is performing talent on stage that any theatergoer should admire. Cherry Torres will be starring on Broadway if there is any theatrical justice. But for me, the music was monotonous in its rock tropes and there wasn’t a tune I recognized, which suggests the 1980’s may not have been a Golden Age of songwriting. But “Rock of Ages” undeniably is one of the hits of a new millennium, so maybe I should just shut up and go back to my Benny Goodman records.

“Rock of Ages” runs through October 15 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane. Performances are Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Thursday at 1:30 and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $45 to $60. Call 630 530 0111 or visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.

                   The show gets a rating of 

Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com        September 2017

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