It was evident that every actor involved in Drury Lane’s Rock of Ages unabashedly aligned themselves with Scott Weinstein’s bold and brassy direction of this campy juke box musical. The insurmountable energy and talent (paired with some classic 80’s hits) make up for the play’s often-watery book.
The story is skillfully propelled by its narrator Lonny (Nicholas Druzbanski), who breaks the fourth wall to tell us about each character. Lonny introduces us to Drew (Russel Mernagh), our starry-eyed protagonist; Sherrie (Cherry Torres), a barhop who longs to leave her small-town life to be a rockstar; and Dennis (Gene Wygandt) the Bourbon Room’s long-haired/long-time owner, recreational drug-user, and dear friend of our fearless narrator.
From there, in true jukebox musical fashion, we learn that Sherrie and Drew are mutually in love with each other but are too scared to admit it over the course of three '80s songs. Simultaneously, The Bourbon Room is threatened by a menacing, power-hungry Hertz (George Keating), and his accomplice/son, Franz (Nick Cosgrove), who lobby to demolish The Bourbon Room in exchange for “clean living.” And, to complicate the narrative even further, bad ass rocker Stacee Jaxx (Adam Michaels) swoops into the story at the end of act one, stealing Sherrie’s affection and Drew’s dream of performing at The Bourbon Room.
Upon returning from the infamously long Drury Lane intermission (think: old ladies using the bathroom and many-a-millennial scrambling to get their wine), Sherrie has taken up stripping, Staccee Jaxx is a burnout, and Drew succumbs to an 80’s boy band persona. But all hope is not lost, because three love stories blossom, and Justice (Donica Lynn) arrives on the scene to provide heart, hope, and sky-high belting. In perhaps the musical’s best number, Tiffany Tatreau (who plays the major’s assistant Regina with ferocity and finesse) and Cosgrove deliver the most entertaining and surprising rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” imaginable.
Confused by the plot? I am too. The book itself is a mess akin to my father’s favorite '80s flock of seagulls haircut-- a roller coaster of twists and turns manufactured just to fit the songs in.
But, the production itself is a massive success. Drury Lane’s Rock of Ages works because neither the director nor the actors take themselves and this silly show too seriously. Instead, they fully commit to the campiness of it and refuse to shy away from any theatrical impulses. Nothing is off-limits, and everything is well-supported by Stephanie Kelemmons’ fearless choreography and Scott Weinstein’s clear direction. As the old woman behind me exclaimed after the show: “It’s terrific!”
Review by Cory Davis
Rock of Ages continues at Drury Lane through October 15th. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.