Written by Chris D’Arienzo
Directed by Kristin Hanggi, Associate Director Adam John Hunter, Resident Director David Connolly
Choreographed by Kelly Devine
Musical supervision by Ethan Popp
Performed by Yvan Pedneault, Elicia MacKenzie, David W. Keeley, Aaron Walpole, Cody Scott Lancaster, et al.
Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
May 11, 2010 – January 2, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Rock of Ages: Not the Hymn your Grandma Sang…
It’s 1987, and the Bourbon Room, a seedy bar on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip is the centre of “hair-band” metal rock. The bar is owned by Dennis, an aging hippie in a fringed jacket, who, along with his sidekick, Lonny the sound guy, book the best in up and coming eighties rock and roll acts. Also working at the bar sweeping floors is Drew, a rock star wanna-be. 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 the latest in popular jukebox musicals – shows that have a plot built around existing songs. Mama Mia was fashioned around Abba songs and lasted for a five year run in Toronto. The Jersey Boys, the story of The Four Seasons, created around their music, is now enjoying a good run. 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. If audience appeal is any indication, Rock of Ages, with its Canadian cast should rival Mama Mia’s longevity.
The comedy is good – poking fun at the era, with a few corny jokes and groaners thrown in. But what makes Rock of Ages so entertaining are the voices and the harmonies. Yvan Pedneault as Drew earns applause for how loud and how long he can hold a note. Pedneault was the lead in the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, and continues to show he has a voice just as amazing as Freddy Mercury or Steve Perry of Journey. Pedneault hails Sept-Iles, Quebec – not South Detroit as the Journey song says – so the story is altered slightly to account for his delightful French Canadian accent.
As Sherrie, Elicia MacKenzie’s powerful voice soars in tunes such as Harden my Heart. Recently, MacKenzie played Maria in The Sound of Music, after winning the CBC-TV series “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Her mini-skirted eighties stipper character is a far cry from Maria, but she nails the rocker chick vocals.
St. Thomas’ own Aaron Walpole plays Lonny as a cross between a cartwheeling John Belushi with the facial expressions of Jack Black. As the narrator, he nearly steals the show with his excellent comedic timing and fantastic voice. Walpole gained popularity as a Canadian Idol runner up in 2005. He takes us into the final number in Act I promising a big song (Here I go Again by Whitesnake) and giving us jazz hands.
David W. Keeley as Dennis looks and sounds like a seventies rock star, making the transition to the eighties. Keeley, with a background at the Stratford Festival and Broadway, works very well with Walpole’s comedy. The two are hilarious when Lonny shows Dennis how much he cares with REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling.
Cody Scott Lancaster as Franz gets spontaneous applause just for smiling at the audience. His version of Pat Benatar’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot brings the house down.
Since this is the Canadian opening of Rock of Ages, there are some Canadian jokes tossed in: high on the big screen, we see the rock stars of the day – including Anne Murray. There are also scenes of Lonny and Dennis travelling the world – making stops at iconic attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, and then Maple Leaf Gardens. The audience roars – how we love the proud Canadian stuff.
Audiences are adoring this show. I saw the Sunday matinee and there was long and loud applause and cheering throughout. During the ballads, the audience was swaying side to side, waving lighted cell phones. For the finale, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, everyone was on his or her feet clapping, singing and dancing. And yet, in talking with the cast later, they said that the afternoon audience had been their quietest yet! The Saturday night crowd had the set shaking, they reported.
Don’t go if you don’t like loud metal rock of the eighties or you’re offended by the language used by eighties rock stars. But if you’re about 40 years old and you grew up on these tunes, don’t miss this show. So it’s a little loud and little bit naughty – it’s the most fun you can have in a theatre.
For tickets, call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or go to www.mirvish.com