Theater Review: Civic rocks 1980s’ music nostalgia
“Rock Of Ages,” Civic Theatre of Allentown’s latest offering, which continues through Feb. 25, is a musical in search of a plot.
Opening on Broadway in 2009, and garnering five Tony nominations, “Rock Of Ages” was written to showcase some of the classic rock music of the 1980s, especially songs from the famous glam pop-metal bands. It’s known as a “jukebox musical” because the script is written around the music.
The task of finding a plot that fit with the music fell on Chris D’Arienzo, who wrote the musical’s book. The result was the all-too-familiar scenario of girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, girl loses boy, girl and boy reunite and everyone around them lives happily ever after, at least until the end of the show.
In this story, however, girl meets another boy, a rock star, actually, and does more than meet. When she loses both boys she becomes a stripper, which provides excuses for a couple of fairly suggestive scenes.
Putting plot misgivings aside, and acknowledging that no one probably cares about the story anyway, it goes without saying that those who came for the music definitely weren’t disappointed with Civic’s production.
The show’s two dozen music numbers are performed by a five-member band that is small in number, but mighty in sound. Tynan Hooker-Haring provides music direction and plays bass guitar. Aaron Hetrick is on drums, with Nathan Diehl playing keyboard. Lead guitar is played by Robert Dudley, and acoustic and electric guitars are by Jamie Mohamdein. During the Feb. 10 performance, on which this review is based, these amazing musicians had the house rocking right through the curtain call.
Heading up the cast of 11 accomplished singer-actors is Daniel Becker, whose character Lonny functioned as narrator and assistant to Dennis Dupree, owner of a bar on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, where much of the story unfolds. One of the funniest moments in the show came in the second act when Lonny and Dennis (played by Robert Trexler) confess they have feelings for each other in their rousing duet “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
Rae Wessel is appealing as Sherrie, the star-struck girl who leaves home for Hollywood fame, but eventually finds love with Drew (played by Anthony Rizzuto). Drew and Sherrie did their best singing together near the end of the show in “Oh Sherrie” and “The Search is Over.”
Two stellar performances are given by Chris Olson as Franz, the German developer’s son, and Brent Schlosshauer, as rock star Stacee Jax. Both provided welcomed, if not slightly absurd, comic relief.
Tracy Ceschin as Justice, the strip-club owner, is featured in only a couple of songs (“Any Way You Want It” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”), but the clarity and power of her singing voice did not go unnoticed.
Backing up the cast is an equally talented ensemble of spirited dancers, with choreography by Deena Linn.
Civic Theatre Associate Artistic Director Will Morris has done an exceptional job of bringing “Rock Of Ages” to Civic Theatre’s temporary stage in Alumnae Hall, Cedar Crest College, Allentown. Morris and his technical staff created the look and feel of an indoor rock concert complete with a multi-functional set, dramatic on- and off-stage lighting, and Heather Wight’s costumes reflecting what the not-so-well-dressed rock groupies wore in the 1980s. Check out the red patent boots.
Paul Halada’s complex lighting design is dazzling. Each lighting technique, from strobes to wall projections to behind-the-band “God’s lighting,” is aptly applied to specific musical numbers to create the appropriate mood and enhance the audience’s experiences.
Scenic Designer Alexander Michaels made the best use of the stage, about half the size of Civic’s Nineteenth Street Theatre, which is undergoing renovation and restoration. By providing an elevated performance area for the band, the musicians could not only be on stage, but also be center stage for the entire show without impeding the rest of the action.
Civic Theatre’s staging of “Rock Of Ages” is timely since a 10th anniversary tour of the musical is planned for later this year. That is a tribute to the agelessness of the music, which remains compelling, and just a little addictive.
Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943