By Barry Reszel
For all but the most ardent aficionados of Rock of Ages—the 2009 Broadway sensation that didn’t get around to saying goodbye to the Great White Way until 2015, some 2300-plus performances later—it’ll be hard to see great differences among the touring renditions that have graced Chicagoland stages previously and the current 10th anniversary tour appearing at the James M. Nederlander Theatre.
The continual smattering of foul language and sexually suggestive subject matter is somehow wrapped into a package that’s not only inoffensive, it manages to be rather sweet. That’s because book writer Chris D’Arienzo folds enough emotional authenticity into his humor, telling a story that works just well enough with outlandish caricatures the audience cares just enough about, too. The ultimate selling point is is the retrospective punctuation by an endless barrage of ‘80s rock hits from Journey, Poison, Whitesnake, Styx, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister and more. From “Sister Christian” to “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” the Rock of Ages cast recording is the playlist of any DJ worth his salt for parties populated by folks in their 30s through their 50s.
Set in the mid- to late-1980s, Rock of Ages revolves around characters who seek to keep Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip the bastion of youthful dreams, indiscretions and music they love, despite developers’ and a greedy mayor’s plans to mall it over. A full plot summary and song list of this camp sendup to both the ‘80s and musical theatre overall may be found here.
On-stage plaudits for this professional, talented cast abound. Young love interests Drew (“born and raised in South Detroit”) and Sherrie (“Oh Sherrie”) are played a tad older in this rendition and are particularly well sung by Anthony Nuccio and Katie LaMark, respectively.
The show stealer here is John-Michael Breen as the show’s narrator and lead player, Lonny.His use of the a portable fog machine at precisely the right times couple with impeccable comedic timing to make Breen’s performance keenly memorable. Memorable is also the word describing the truly outstanding acting and vocal performance of Kristina Walz as activist Regina. Hers is absolutely a name to remember; she’s a star in the making.
They are all supported by a richly voiced ensemble in a production where it’s imperative that well-known songs be such well. They’re also extraordinarily performed by the musicans making up the Rock of Ages band led by Conductor Marshall Keating on piano. His combo, including Zach “AttAkk” Henning and Maddox on guitars, Chris Moore on drums and Oliver Hoffer on bass, provide patrons a first-rate rock concert with a musical, daring the audience not to sing along.
All told, take this as an enthusiastic recommendation to see the Rock of Ages 10th anniversary tour before it leaves town after April 28’s performance.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Rock of Ages” through April 28 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W Randolph St, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.