The 80’s are back in San Diego County! Lamb’s Players Theatre is currently presenting a revival of the 1980’s- themed musical revue, miXtape. Another tribute to this decade is the Southern California Regional Premiere of the jukebox musical comedy, Rock of Ages, now playing at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
If miXtape is a family-friendly and wholesome look at the past, Rock of Ages is its badly behaved sibling. It’s all about “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” in a hilarious evening that is chock full of irreverent and edgy humor.
Set in 1987 on the Sunset Strip, it features Drew (Rory Gilbert), a hopeful busboy working as a busboy at the bar, the Bourbon Room. Drew who aspires to be a famous musician, quickly develops a crush on a new waitress, Sherrie (Megan Carmitchel), who has moved to Los Angeles to make it as a movie actress.
Sherrie and Drew are attracted to each other but their romance is interrupted when Sherrie falls for the famous and egotistical rock star Stacee Jaxx (Bryan Banville). The predictable plot and enjoyable show roll on from there.
One of the major reasons why the show works so well is Chris D’Arienzo’s book which combines songs such as Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” with laugh-out-loud crude and sophomoric humor.
D’Arienzo reminds the audience on several occasions that they are actually watching a show, and has a lot of fun with cliches such as act one finales and how love stories are usually portrayed in musicals.
Victor E. Chan as Lonny, the narrator/employee at the Bourbon Room, delivers these lines effectively, and he’s one of the standouts of the ensemble with his singing and comedy skills.
Gilbert and Carmitchel share a charming chemistry, and both have strong singing voices that do justice to the music.
Banville brings an arrogant attitude that will make theatregoers love to hate Stacee, has excellent comedic timing and delivery, and possesses the rock vocals required for tunes such as “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Heat of the Moment.”
Berto Fernandez, Zackary Scot Wolfe and Emma Nossal are extremely funny and effective with their offbeat comical dialogue and solos. In addition, Anise Ritchie and John Rosen have some witty and dramatic spoken and sung-through moments as the strip club owner, Justice, and Hertz, the German developer who wants to destroy the Bourbon Room.
Backing up the triple threat performers are the musicians (visible to the audience) led by conductor/keyboardist Patrick Marion. Marion, along with guitarist Jim Mooney, drummer Tom Versen and the rest of the “orchestra,” effectively replicate the 80’s sound of bands such as Journey, Whitesnake and Poison.
While the musical numbers were performed very well by the artists, TJ Fucella’s miking was a bit staticky on opening night, which made the lyrics somewhat difficult to understand. Despite these relatively minor technical audio issues, however, the crew was excellent and effective.
Artistic Director Sean Murray stages the narrative in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and focuses equally on the comedic and rock elements of the plot, having the audience almost simultaneously clapping along to a hit single and laughing out loud at the antics onstage.
Working in sync with Murray’s staging is choreographer, Katie Banville, whose intentionally over-the-top and humorous choreography feels like it’s straight out of a music video from the time period.
Sean Fannings’ set, Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ costumes and Blake McCarty’s projections highlight both the entertaining and seedy aspects of the Sunset Strip.
While Rock of Ages might be a breezy experience with a wonderfully twisted sense of humor, there’s a surprisingly strong message about how life should still be celebrated, even if things don’t always turn out according to one’s plans. Certain aspects about the ending might be conventional, yet D’Arienzo still includes a few surprising twists and his message is handled with optimism and sophistication.
The opening of Cygnet’s Season 17 is so entertaining and can appeal to people from different generations. Beer being served onstage before the show and during intermission might help some get into the spirit of rock, but getting buzzed isn’t required to appreciate Murray’s interpretation of this hit musical.