|(l. to r.) Sean Fleming, Todd Cooper, Allen Cruz|
|Carly Ameling, Sean Fleming|
By Tom Wachunas
“I don’t know where I’m going / But I sure know where I’ve been / Hanging on the promises / in songs of yesterday …” lyrics from “Here I Go Again,” By David Coverdale and Bernie Marsden, of Whitesnake
Here they go again. They’ve been waiting for a show like this – to hit us with their best shot and fire away. They just couldn’t fight the feeling to feel the noize. Workin’ hard to get their fill, they all want a thrill and they don’t stop believin’. The final countdown to nothin’ but a good time and high energy is on. They wanna rock. They’re the ones who want to be with you with too much time on their hands, to kiss you deadly, and to melt your face in the heat of the moment with more than words. Yikes.
The ‘they’ is Players Guild Theatre’s Jonathan Tisevich, directing Rock of Ages, with a scalding-hot cast of 14 performers, and an equally sizzling onstage six-piece band conducted by keyboardist Steve Parsons. The show is a jukebox musical, written by Chris D'Arienzo with music arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp, constructed around famous “glam metal” hits of the 1980s, with snippets of more than 30 power ballads and gushy love songs woven into the action. The original Broadway production opened in 2009 and ran for 2,328 performances before closing in 2015.
An insanely twisted tale set in 1987, Rock of Ages is about life and love in and around The Bourbon Room, a Sunset Strip rock club on the verge of being torn down to make room for retail stores. We hear from screeching, big-haired, crotch-grinding men and watch slinky parades of pole-dancing, derriere-wagging waitresses clad in neon-colored lingerie (costumes by Suwatana Rockland). If you look closely enough behind this elaborately constructed bar room façade (scenic design by Joshua Erichsen), however, you’re sure to find that much of the show is a deeply probing metaphor for… screeching, big-haired, crotch-grinding men and pole-dancing, derriere-wagging waitresses clad in neon-colored lingerie.
The story is narrated by the infectiously goofy and mischievous Allen Cruz. He plays Lonny, the Bourdon Room house manager and sound man who has a noisy habit of disrupting the small number of genuinely tender moments the show has to offer. Most of those moments center on Carly Ameling - instantly charismatic and shining in her portrayal of Sherrie, the proverbial small-town girl who comes to L.A. to be an actress but reluctantly settles for doing lap dances – and Sean Fleming in his role of Drew, an aspiring rock singer whose high-range vocals could peel paint. Their could-be romance is sidetracked when Sherrie succumbs to the sexual prowess of the hopelessly self-absorbed, swaggering bad- boy megastar Stacee Jaxx, played with lascivious ferocity by Brandon Michael. Talk about breaching the fourth wall - as very much of the action does in this sprawling production - at one point he slingshots a pair of panties into the audience.
There’s something of the mellowed hippie peeking through Todd Cooper’s portrayal of Dennis, the Bourbon Room owner who decides to mentor Drew in his efforts to be a successful rocker. Paralleling Cooper’s magnetism is that of Leiah Lewis in her role of Justice, owner of the strip joint that hires Sherrie. And then there’s Morgan Brown as Regina (pronounced RegEYEna, she’s oh so careful to point out), an impish gadfly protesting the impending destruction of the Bourbon Room by greedy German mother and son developers, Hertz und Franz, played with chillingly cartoonish intensity by Hannah Kyriakides and Dylan Berkshire.
Through it all is the titillating choreography by Brandon Leffler – a raucous mash-up of apparent spontaneity and studied stereotypes that leave few visual clichés unexplored, including some absolutely hilarious scenes that imitate classic cinematic slow-motion effects to exaggerate if not dismiss the kitschy sentimentality of the moment.
So the show is a lurid yet not overly- loud caricature. On one level it’s a silly burlesque, an unapologetic parody, and an otherwise self-mocking Declaration of Dependence on Dopamine. Interestingly enough, the cast members seem to have made a serious business out of not taking this business of sex and drugs and rock-n-roll too seriously. Maybe you could think of them as Journey’s streetlights people, aboard a midnight train, this one headed to where the laughs go on and on and on…
PHOTOS by Dominic Iudiciani
Rock of Ages / Through Sept. 1, 2019, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday / no show on Aug. 10, and shows at 7 and 11 p.m. on Aug. 31 / at Players Guild Theatre Downstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave. N, Canton, Ohio / TICKETS: $34 ($31 for seniors 65 and older), may be ordered at www.PlayersGuildTheatre.com and 330-453-7619.