By Barry Reszel
It may be a bit ageist to say Drury Lane Theatre took a risk putting up the regional premiere of Jukerock musical Rock of Ages, despite its overwhelming Broadway success.
Suffice it to say it’s hard to imagine too many patrons of that production’s 22 previews and 2,328 regular performances (which puts it into a tie with Man of La Mancha as the 28th-longest running Broadway show of all-time) were searching for their Styrofoam leftover containers to bring home following the closing curtain.
To anyone taking offense at such an admittedly judgmental observation of a nice-sized chunk of Drury Lane’s enviable subscriber base, please accept this invitation to YouTube a rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and post the link in the comments below. ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com readers would love to see it.
But to patrons of all ages and musical tastes, read here that Drury’s Scott Weinstein-directed, Stephanie Klemmons-choreographed hard rock piece of loving 80s memorabilia is, as the song says, “Nothin’ But a Good Time.”
Rock is riddled with some of the best songs of that decade (“Sister Christian,” “We Built This City,” “More Than Words,” “Harden My Heart” “Anyway You Want It,” “I Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Keep On Loving You,” “Oh Sherrie,” “Here I Go Again” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” among others). Their performance, often mashed with sister tunes, by the smoking onstage band of Rich Trelease (drums), Patrick Williams (bass), Tom Logan (electric guitar) and Dan Peters (acoustic and electric guitars) is expertly led by Chris Sargent (conductor, keyboard). This band, playing at a thankfully less-than-completely-earsplitting decibel level takes the production’s first bow.
The second belongs to a magnificent ensemble cast who are having the collective time of their life onstage. Standouts Annie Jo Ermel, Sharriese Hamilton and Sawyer Smith are indicative of the top-quality dancers showing off Klemmons’ intricate choreography and subtly enhancing each scene through a multitude of various characters.
Glitter, fishnets, spandex, denim and big hair (no doubt Costume Designer Theresa Ham and Wig Designer Miguel Armstrong had a blast) adorn the actors playing out the stereotypical 80s love story on Jeffrey Kmiec‘s intricate unit set, expertly lit by Greg Hofmann:
Musician wanna-be Drew meets actress wanna-be Sherrie while working together in West Hollywood’s Bourbon Room. They’re both smitten with the other, but despite looking to achieve stardom via media that require excellent communication skills, they’re clueless. So Sherrie has sex with a jerk rock star in the club’s bathroom and is surprised when Drew is miffed. Never fear, it’s pretty clear how this turns out. Simultaneously, the subplot of German developers trying to turn the Bourbon Room into a Foot Locker is a full-out laugh riot. (For readers wanting more, full plot details are here.)
It all works because every single element is over the top and every character is in on it. That, and casting perfection, means the room is loaded with terrific talent. Russell Mernagh is wide-eyed and wonderful as Drew and as Sherrie, Chicagoland newcomer Cherry Torres shows she’s got the way groove audiences. Armed with gorgeous voices under the direction of Roberta Duchak, the two handle large chunks of the memorable songbook with strength and grace.
Gene Weygandt as the devoted, pot-smoking owner of the Bourbon Club is an absolute joy. So, too, are Adam Michaels as the vapid rock star Stacee Jaxx and Donica Lynn as Mother, the owner of the strip club serving as Sherrie’s rock bottom.
Four characters in this show, however, may well vie for “supporting” Jeff nominations next year. Nick Druzbanski shatters the theatrical fourth wall as hilarious Lonny, the Bourbon Room’s sound man and Rock of Ages‘ narrator. His duet of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” with Weygandt is an absolute treasure. George Keating is comedically magnificent as Hertz, the German developer whose “Keep on Lovin’ You” rendition is grossly memorable. Nick Cosgrove as his animated son Franz gets every last laugh out of the character, and then some. Finally, Tiffany Tatreau as the willing-to-die-for-her-cause rebel protestor Regina not only milks her role to the hilt, her “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” duet with Cosgrove is but another belting highlight.
It’s fair to warn potential patrons that Rock of Ages is a PG13-going-on-R-rated production with loud music and plenty of overt raunch combining with sexual and drug innuendo. That said, there might be just enough sweetness to win over fans of any age and sensibility.
And all will leave for home, Styrofoam in hand or not, humming, “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Drury Lane Theatre presents “Rock of Ages” through October 15 at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Brett Beiner.