Saturday, February 23, 2019

“Rock of Ages” is a Big Cheeseball You Eat Anyway

Diana Huey and Galen Disston in Rock of Ages (Tracy Martin)
Rock of Ages
5th Avenue Theatre
Through February 24, 2019

Piles of snow didn’t stop the crew of Rock of Ages from puttin’ on a show! Some of the hardier audience members were even able to snag $20 tickets. 5th Avenue admin made the decision to help entice people who were able to get downtown to come in from the cold and have fun.

The musical is mostly an excuse for talented singer/performers to belt their faces off to well-known rock-and-roll songs from the 80’s and 90’s. It’s got some good jokes and a barely-palatable “story” to hang the songs on. You don’t go for deep and thoughtful story content, you go to sing along with the performers. They know all the words, you just chime in when you remember a few! (I don’t mean you actually are supposed to sing along, but it’s kind of inevitable if you already know the song.)

A robust cast of local talents bring the fun to life, with an assist from “she who we claim as ours,” Diana Huey, as the lead young-girl-from-a-small-town-who-wants-to-be-a-star-and-runs-away-with-her-parents’-disapproval-to-a-big-bad-Los-Angeles Sherrie, and a “real” rock legend, Mickey Thomas from (Jefferson) Starship as club owner Dennis. A bashful-looking Galen Disston, lead singer of the local rock band, Pickwick, takes on a new challenge as Drew, the-boy-who-wants-to-be-a-rock-and-roll-star-and-starts-as-a-bar-back. 

Chris D’Arienzo must have been drinking when he decided to make a jukebox musical with rock songs. But with the help of arranger Ethan Popp and perhaps not much ambition, Rock of Ages was born in Los Angeles. It somehow made its way to Off-Broadway in 2008 and gained enough buzz to move to Broadway and then got made into a movie. The stereotypical story they hung it all on is the young love story. Then there has to be a misunderstanding and a break-up, and finally they find each other again.

Dennis’ club is threatened by German developers who want to get rid of Sunset Strip and maybe make a strip mall. Nick DeSantis plays the German-daddy-bad-guy-developer (with some over-the-top song slinging) who orders his slavish son, Franz (Nik Hagen), around. A city planner, Sara Porkalob as Regina (RehjEYEnah), hates the plan and quits the city planning job to hang out in the street and lead protests.

Dennis calls in a favor from previously-unknown-rocker-now-famous Stacee Jaxx (Brandon O’Neill) so the club can seem more lucrative in a bid to stop it from being torn down. Of course, Jaxx uses and disposes of all the young women hangers on, and becomes the reason that Sherrie and Drew have that misunderstanding, and Sherrie learns the big city lesson about terrible “rock stars.” Then she wanders down the street to the only place she can (apparently) get another job – the strip joint. There, Mother (Felicia Loud, finally making her 5th Avenue debut – and here’s hoping to see her a LOT MORE there and other places – hint, hint!) takes her in and shows her the ropes.

The show is cheekily narrated by a very funny Dane Stokinger, digging in to the silliness of the whole enterprise and setting the tone just right. The rest of the ensemble seems to be having a great time, too. Hagen’s “break out” moment is definitely the funniest of the night.

Disston has a good voice for this genre, so hat’s off to his debut. Why is Huey so undermiked, is the big question. In their duets, Disston is booming and her harmonies are struggling to overcome. We know she’s a belter – so it’s clearly not her fault.

The choreography is somewhat uneven, sometimes given time to get going and sometimes distracting. The small band gives great rock sound. The set by Matt Smucker is lively, the costumes by Cathy Meacham Hunt are colorful and eye-catching.

The song titles include “We Built This City,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “The Final Countdown,” “Keep On Lovin’ You,” and leading to a big finale of “Don’t Stop Believin’” when our story-leads find each other again. It’s all a big ball of cheese, but it’s the kind that’s like Cheetos – you can’t stop eating it, no matter how much you might wish to stop.

For more information, go to or call 206-625-1900. 

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