Theater Review: ROCK OF AGES (Cygnet Theatre Company in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 9, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Big hair, short shorts, and tons of Madonnawannabees. It’s hard not to love the spirit of the 80s. A huge part of that was the high-spirited music of the decade. Moving past the 70s folk ballad/disco era but not yet into the angst-y 90s, the 80s were loaded with feel good tunes like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s hard to speak for the city, but surely we built this decade on rock and roll.

Chris D’Arienzo’s book takes us through a story that is punctuated by the characters singing over thirty major hits of the 1980s. A la jukebox musicals such as Mamma Mia, Rock of Ages uses existing songs that characters croon to tell their stories. The difference here is that D’Arienzno and musical arranger Ethan Popp had a far wider catalog of songs to choose from. The outcome is that the lyrics usually make much more sense than they did for Mamma Mia, where you pretty much had to ignore what they were singing about.

Our story is pretty basic. Small town girl Sherry (Megan Carmitchel) wants more. Goes to city. Works in bar. Meets bar-hand Drew (Rory Gilbert) who — brace yourself — really wants to be a rock star. Crushes and misunderstandings lead to light drama, side plots, and fun characters. That’s all you need to know because you aren’t going for the plot. You’re going for the performance.

D’Arienzo wisely doesn’t make everything about Drew and Sherry, which makes it easier to have so many great songs fit into the intentions and reactions of side characters like bar owner Dennis (Berto Fernandez), bar manager Lonny (Victor E. Chan), rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Bryan Banville), and strip club manager Justic (Anise Ritchie, with THE voice you’ll remember at the end of the night).

Strong vocals overall, keen choreography by Katie Banville (especially for the small Cygnet thrust stage), and impassioned delivery keep the energy going in this musical/concert, especially with a tremendously talented four-man hair-band playing upstage almost constantly. They are so perfectly timed that you could forget they were there and think everyone was singing to original tracks.

What makes Rock of Ages rather delightful, though, is its refusal (both in script and under Sean Murray’s direction) to take itself seriously. This is not an edgy show; it’s outright silly at times and over-the-top performances, especially by Banville’s egomaniac and Zachary Scot Wolfe’s wannabee of a very different type, give us solid laughs between all the pop and rock numbers.

There isn’t enough to Rock of Ages for it to become a classic, but for a fun night out, Cygnet brings this show home with big energy. Perhaps a critic should be tougher on small details, but the bottom line is that I… I… oh gosh…I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymooooore…

photos by Ken Jacques and Sean Fanning

Rock of Ages
Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on Aug 25, 2019
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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