Rock of Ages 2017

Written on October 18th, 2017

Eighties Rock ‘n’ Roll Anthems are not Hymns   

Artistic Director Alex Mustakas is worried about Drayton Entertainment’s production of Rock of Ages, on stage now at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge.  He is concerned it will offend subscribers:  they may not be the right demographic.  So there are warnings attached:  the website says “Caution: Mature Content”, “18+” and “Loud Music”.  Mustakas is the director of this production, and alerts theatre goers in his program message.  “It’s a little more risqué than our traditional music and comedy programming,” he says, pointing out that it comes from the 1980s, and these are actors portraying the fads of that “loud, crass and playfully suggestive era”.

So you can’t say you weren’t forewarned.  If you are easily offended, stay home.  If you come, don’t take it too seriously, and be prepared for a whole lot of fun!

To be honest, I am more concerned about the upcoming production of Death of a Salesman being a huge departure from Drayton’s usual fare.  It will be a very depressing drama, in contrast to the usual musicals and comedies.

But, on the other hand, kudos to Drayton for branching out.  Here’s hoping both Rock of Ages and Death of a Salesman will attract new theatre-goers.

Now, back to Rock of Ages – you need to know that it is NOT the hymn your grandmother sang. It’s 1987, and the Bourbon Room, a seedy bar on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip is the centre of hard, metal rock. The bar is owned by Dennis, an older hippie, who, along with his sidekick, Lonny, book the best in up-and-coming rock and roll acts.  Also working at the bar sweeping floors is Drew, a rock star wanna-be rock star.  Sherrie, the small town girl, arrives in Hollywood, hoping to become a movie star. The Bourbon Room has a “kick-ass” house band, and life is good, until a German investor and his son Franz bribe the mayor to let them tear down the district in the name of economic redevelopment.

Rock of Ages is a popular jukebox musical – it has a plot built around existing songs.  Similarly, Mamma Mia is fashioned around Abba songs and The Jersey Boys, the story of The Four Seasons, is created around their music. Rock of Ages incorporates the music of Journey, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and more, cleverly woven around a funny tale typical of musical theatre:  there’s a story of unrequited love, an impending disaster and happy ending, all set to epic eighties’ anthems.

Drayton’s own Jayme Armstrong is at her best, playing Sherrie, the naïve country girl hoping to make it big in Hollywood.  Armstong’s voice is excellent in the lower range, as she belts out the rock numbers perfectly.

New to Ontario theatres, Kale Penny plays Drew, who wants to be known by the rock ‘n’ roll name Wolfgang Von Colt.  Penny has an amazing voice: he hits all the high notes and is able to hold them for an incredible length of time.

Aaron Walpole is re-creating the same role, Lonny, that he played in the Mirvish production of Rock of Ages. He is part John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, cartwheeling across the stage, and part Jack Black in the Pick of Destiny, rocking the tunes.  Walpole, a former Canadian Idol star, has a rich and powerful voice. He also possesses great comedic timing as he narrates the show. Mark Harapiak is excellent as Denis Dupree, owner of the club.  He and Walpole have brilliant comedy chemistry and bring the house down when they dance together.

Jamie McKnight, a Drayton favourite, plays rock star Stacee Jaxx.  McKnight’s voice is pitch perfect as usual, and he’s hilariously slimy as the stereotype ‘sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll’ star.  Jade Repeta plays both Regina, the protester, and Constance, the reporter, and she is hysterically funny in both roles.   Victor Young and Greg Pember are perfect as the father and son team of German investors, and Kristen Peace is excellent as the mother of the strip joint.  Peace’s powerful voice resonates when she performs the eighties hits.

An excellent ensemble provides a strong chorus of voices and stunning dance.  There are few solo numbers in Rock of Ages:  for this show to be successful with the loud rock numbers, the entire cast must be made up of robust singers.  And this cast does it effortlessly. Hits such as “Cum on Feel the Noize”, “Sister Christian”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, “Every Rose has its Thorn”, “Oh, Sherrie”, “Don’t Stop Believin’” and more, bounce off the walls of the theatre, guaranteeing a good time.

If you can laugh at stupid bathroom humour, enjoy corny jokes, and you like loud eighties rock music, you’ll love Rock of Ages.  Drayton is rockin’ this musical the way it is meant to be, and it’s a whole lot of fun!

Rock of Ages continues with eight shows a week until November 5 at the Dunfield Theatre, Cambridge. Tickets are available by calling Toll Free 1-855-372-9866 or Local Box Office 519-747-7788 or check

Photo: Jayme Armstrong, Kale Penny and Company in Rock of Ages, Dunfield Theatre, Drayton Entertainment, 2017. Photo by Hilary Gauld Camilleri.

Rock of Ages
Book by Chris D’Arienzo
Arrangements & Orchestrations by Ethan Popp
Directed by Alex Mustakas
Musical Direction by Konrad Pluta
Choreographed by Robin Calvert
Performed by Jayme Armstrong, Aaron Walpole, Kale Penny, Mark Harapiak, Jamie McKnight, Jade Repeta, Victor A. Young, Gregory Pember, Kristen Peace, et al
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Dunfield Theatre, Cambridge
October 13 to November 5, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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