Rock of Ages at Hennepin Theatre Trust
Imagine it’s 1981 and Journey’s hit single “Don’t Stop Believin’” just released. If you would have asked Journey or any one back then that this song would be the finale of a hit Broadway musical that is still going after ten years, they’d think you were crazy. However that is the world we live in right now. The Tony-nominated musical, Rock of Ages had a quick - and I mean quick - three-day jaunt in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre. This jukebox musical features some of the most iconic and memorable songs from the 80’s including hits from Styx, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, and more.
The plot is simple enough to understand. Ironically enough, if you’ve ever heard “Don’t Stop Believin’,” you know the plot fairly well already. Drew Boley is a busboy, born and raised in south Detroit, at the Bourbon Room bar in L.A. and is an aspiring rockstar. He meets a small town girl from Kansas , named Sherrie Christian, and instantly falls in love with her. Sherrie moves to L.A. to become an actress and with the help of Drew, gets a waitressing job at the bar. While their love plays out there is another plot brewing about in which a pair of German developers, Hertz Klinemann and his son Franz, are working on persuading the mayor on redeveloping Sunset Strip.
Visually the show is pretty spectacular with a flurry of colorful and perfectly timed and lighting cues. The lighting design, by Mike Baldassari, walks that perfect line of Broadway musical while still generating a rock concert vibe. The set design is crafty and smart by using equipment boxes to depict a variety of shorter scenes that may take place outside of the Sunset Strip. With a few mic issues in the second act, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of control that was set in place for the volume. With rock music, I figured it was going to be extremely loud however it still had the same energy of a concert but with the volume control where I wasn’t holding my ears the entire time.
I’ll admit that the show wasn’t exactly my cup of tea however you cannot deny the talent that these performers had. Their ability, along with Ethan Popp’s arrangement and orchestrations, to take a catalogue of beloved music from the 80’s and still have a Broadway-esque feel surprised me. The technique behind their voices with their belts were pretty impressive and melded lovely with the music.
Anthony Nuccio, who plays the aspiring rocker Drew, is such an incredibly high belt that always felt natural and never forced. He also had the perfect amount of charm with just the flash of a smile. John-Michael Breen played Lonn and sort of acs as his own independent character while also serving as a narrator to the audience with plenty of fourth walls being broken. His character was the most intriguing. I found him unique too due to the similarities he had with Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who was a big influence for one of the creators.
Other highlights in the cast include Katie LaMark as Sherrie whose character was the perfect amount of ditzy and strong and Chris Renalds whose homoerotic leather corset version of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” had me truly laughing so hard I almost fell out of my seat.
As I mentioned before, the plot is very simple. It’s a great show for those who just want to be entertained and not have to think too much about the themes and implications of characters decisions. For me it was a little too simple and a plot we’ve seen so many times that I just couldn’t get into it.
While this has nothing to do with the show itself, I really felt the need to comment on the audience during this show. I spent a few days thinking how I was going to review it. How do I review a show that is rooted in the ideas, themes and feeling of a rock concert? At times there were people singing along, standing up and dancing. Call me old fashioned but no matter what the show is, I want to be able to sit and enjoy the show without distracting audience members. There were even so many people on their phones that I couldn’t help but wonder where were the ushers? Isn’t their job to stop behavior such as that? This is not the first time I’ve dealt with poor audience etiquette before shows specifically at HTT.
While Rock of Ages wasn’t my specific cup of tea, the cast and memorable songs made it for a joyful night celebrating two of the best forms of entertainment; theatre and music.
Unforunatley, Rock of Ages was here for a very limited run of only three days however HTT recently announced their upcoming 2019-2020 season which includes hit shows such as Disney’s Frozen, 10-time Tony Award winner The Band’s Visit, and the musical version of the cult hit, Mean Girls. See the rest of them and for more info below!