Back to the Eighties
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
If you’re looking for a time machine to transport you back to the 1980s, then look no further than the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. Rock of Ages, now on stage there, is guaranteed to make you believe you have reversed time 35 years. So “Don’t Stop Believing”.
This revival of Rock of Ages is from a new producer, More Entertainment, with J.P. Gedeon at the helm. More Entertainment promises future musicals, national tours of musicals, concerts and live spectaculars with music, fireworks, drones and lasers. Gedeon is also the director of this show, and for his debut production, he’s done a great job.
The music and dancing are excellent, thanks for musical director Mark Camilleri and choreographer Sean Cheesman.
But let’s face it, Rock of Ages isn’t a classic piece of literature. The script will never win any awards: it’s probably the weakest of the juke box musicals. A juke box musical uses existing songs and weaves a story around them. Mamma Mia’s plot was created around Abba music. Jersey Boys is the story Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, built around their music. Rock of Ages pulls together the songs of various groups which produced hits in the 1980s. Writer Chris D’Arienzo has stretched to grab at anything in the song lyrics that might have a tale to tell and mashed it together. As I said, this story is not a work of art.
Nevertheless, if you love songs like “Anyway You Want It”, “Cum On Feel the Noize”, “Every Rose Has its Thorn”, “Harden my Heart”, “I Hate Myself for Loving You”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”, or “We Built this City” (and that’s not even half of the musical numbers), then you will love this show.
However, Rock of Ages should come with a warning: Do not bring the grandkids! It is for an 18+ audience. If you’re offended by foul language, crotch grabbing, or dirty jokes, stay home. Apparently, the 1980s were pretty raunchy and vulgar.
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 ‘n’ roll acts. Also working at the bar sweeping floors is Drew, a rock star wanna-be rock star who plans to perform under the name Wolfgang Von Colt. Sherrie, a small-town girl, arrives in Hollywood, hoping to become a movie star, and lands a job there. 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.
A.J. Bridal is perfect as sweet, naïve Sherrie, a role somewhat similar to her successful run as Lauren in Kinky Boots. The male leads – Trevor Coll as Drew, Jonathan Cullen as Stacee Jaxx, and Dave Comeau as Lonny and narrator – all have great rock ‘n’ roll voices and the comedic talent to create a lot of fun. Kent Sheridan is perfect as the gravel-voiced Dennis Dupree. Steffi DiDomenicantonio is hilarious as Regina Kuntz (and yes, as she points out, it’s pronounced Regina (like the Saskatchewan city). Louise Camilleri has the sexy moves and the voice for Justice Charlier. Larry Mannell and Tyler Pearse are well cast as father and son, Hertz and Franz, both creating humour with German accents. Pearse is over-the-top funny. Jerry LaPalme is perfect as the corrupt mayor, giving good reason for a few John Tory jokes to be inserted into the script. Special mention goes to Saphire Demitro for her powerful singing voice as Waitress #1. Also outstanding are two ensemble members, for their backflips and springs across the stage in the big dance numbers: Joey Arrigo and Lakota Knuckle.
Kudos to the band members who sit in the box seats on the sides of the stage, occasionally taking guitars on stage, with long wigs flying. The music is rock ‘n’ roll loud, but not drowning out the singers.
My only concern is with some costumes and wigs that looked less than professional. Is Lonny’s fake chest supposed to fool us into thinking he is well built, or is it supposed to be funny? In any case, when the fake chest fabric wrinkles, it is a distraction. While most of the long rock ‘n’ roll wigs are good, the lead character, Drew, wears a rather phoney-looking mess on his head. Two young women coming out of the theatre behind me thought he was good-looking, but weren’t sure because of the wig, they said.
Light, sound and special effects are well done, with some pyrotechnics included.
If you’re wanting something to make you think, this ain’t the show. But, if you want to have some laughs and stir up some memories with some great 80s music, then you’ll enjoy Rock of Ages. Superior singing and lively choreography will make this a popular show. The opening night audience loved it.
Rock of Ages continues at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St., Toronto, until May 20, 2023. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at https://www.ticketmaster.ca/rock-of-ages-toronto-tickets/artist/2945378
Photos: A.J. Bridel as Sherrie Christian. Jonathan Cullen as Stacee Jaxx singing, with cast members of Rock of Ages. Photos by Ralph Nogal.
Rock of Ages
By Chris D’Arienzo
Arrangements and Orchestrations by Ethan Popp
Directed by J.P. Gedeon
Musical Direction by Mark Camilleri
Choreographed by Sean Cheesman
Performed by A.J. Bridel, Trevor Coll, Louise Camilleri, Dave Comeau, Jonathan Cullen, Saphire DeMitro, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, Jeremy LaPalme, Jeff Madden, Larry Mannel, Tyler Pearse, Kent Sheridan, et al.
Debut production of More Entertainment
Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St., Toronto
March 2 to May 20, 2023 Reviewed by Mary Alderson