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Long live rock and roll - Rock of Ages'

June 15, 2016
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Long live rock and roll - Rock of Ages' (Photo by Magnus Stark)

1980s jukebox musical an entertaining spectacle from PTC

BANGOR Are you ready to rock?

Penobscot Theatre Company is closing out the 2015-2016 season in a big way with the rock musical 'Rock of Ages,' directed and choreographed by Michele Colvin with musical direction by Andrew Crowe. Performances run through July 2 at the Bangor Opera House. The show features over 30 of the most beloved and popular rock songs of the 1980s bands like Poison, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Journey, Whitesnakethe list goes on and on.

Drew (Ira Kramer) is an aspiring rock star who is paying the bills by working as a bar back at The Bourbon Room, a legendary club on the Sunset Strip. The place is run by owner Dennis (Ben Layman) and his assistant Lonny (Dominick Varney), who also serves as the show's narrator. Sherrie (Christie Robinson) is a wannabe actress who made her way out west from Texas. Drew sees her and immediately falls for her; he winds up convincing Dennis to give her a job working at the club.

Meanwhile, the mayor (Bob Potts) has been convinced by German developer Hertz (Neil A. Graham) and his son Franz (Alekzander Sayers) thanks in no small part to a significant bribe to allow complete redevelopment of the Strip. The mayor's assistant Regina (Brianne Beck) quits in disgust and immediately begins to organize protests against Hertz's plans.

Desperate to prove his club's viability, Dennis calls in a favor from rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Andrew Crowe). Jaxx reportedly on the verge of breaking off from his band Arsenal to go solo agrees to have the final Arsenal show at The Bourbon Room, though it's soon clear that his massive rock-star ego is going to cause problems.

All the while, the attraction between Drew and Sherrie is undeniable. Unfortunately, the tangle of their respective personal and professional lives along with a few poor decisions results in a wedge being driven between the two, with each sacrificing their integrity (along with their dignity) for the sake of ego and pride.

As these relationships deteriorate, so too do the chances of The Bourbon Room dodging the wrecking ball. Can the glorious era of big sounds and big hair survive the commodifying march of capitalism? Or is The Bourbon Room doomed to an eternity as a strip mall Foot Locker? Is it possible for any or all of these broken and/or burgeoning relationships to survive is the Strip does not?

Is rock and roll here to stay?

Any review of 'Rock of Ages' has to start with the music. This show's Arsenal a no-fooling band that spends the entirety of the show onstage consists of some of the area's best musical talent. With Jeremy Shirland and Joshua Kovach on guitar, Gaylen Smith on bass, Tom Libby on drums and Allison Bankston on keyboards, the band is a propulsive force. They are big and loud in a way only the 1980s allowed. They are the engine of the show, serving as the energy upon which the cast can feed.

And about that castit's a good one.

The Drew-Sherrie dynamic is a foundational one, requiring quality chemistry from the actors. Kramer's sincerity and amiability serve him well as Drew; Robinson strikes a nice balance between sweetness and ambition with her portrayal of Sherrie. He lands some solid bits and finds some nice intensity, while she demonstrates once again her particular brand of on-stage fearlessness (especially in terms of physical comedy).They're a fun pair to watch.

Layman and Varney are also quite the match. The easy comfort shared between the two permeates the entire relationship, resulting in a portrayal of a deep friendship that is equal parts hilarious and touching; their duet on 'I Can't Fight This Feeling' might well be the show's most effective number. Layman crushes some of the show's best lines, while Varney's work as the narrator consistently lands.

Crowe imbues Stacee Jaxx with a broad charisma that partially masks his leather-pantsed oiliness. He embodies the entitled rock star. Beck charms with her combination of fiery rhetoric and starry-eyed passion. Graham and Sayers bring a broad and goofy energy to their gruff/effete father-son dynamic that's quite engaging. Potts has some ethically-challenged fun, both as the mayor and as a shady music manager-type, while Heather Astbury-Libby goes big and brassy as strip club impresario Justice.

The rest of this world comes to life through the efforts of the ensemble players. Six actors Catherine Forthofer, Daniel Kennedy, Grace Livingston-Kramer, Kristina Rex, Charisse Shields and Birdie Sawyer are in a constant whirlwind of song, dance and costume changes. Each of them cycles through a multitude of roles, helping bring the Sunset Strip to life. Their boundless energy and unwavering commitment are a huge part of why this show succeeds the way it does.

(Trying to choose a favorite number is a mostly futile task there are A LOT of great songs. 'I Wanna Rock' kicks ass. The 'Harden My Heart/Shadows of the Night' medley is tight. 'Wanted Dead or Alive,' 'Here I Go Again,' 'Heat of the Moment,' 'Don't Stop Believin'' hell, I could just write down the song list and call it good.)

On the production side of things, the PTC team shines once again. Tricia Hobbs has assembled a big and busy set made up of jaunty levels and dingy charm. It's an ideal rock club particularly when paired with E. Tonry Lathroum's flashy, flashing lighting design. Kevin Koski comes through yet again with ultra-80s costume designs awash in denim and neon. Meredith Perry does her usual quality work with prop design, while Brandie Larkin handles the high-volume high-wire of sound design.

'Rock of Ages' is pure unadulterated rock and roll fun. With a fantastic band, some wonderful performances and exceptional production values, it is one hell of a way to close out the season.

Long live rock and roll.

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 13:12

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