Get ready to have your faces melted off with the sound of a bunch of really sweet 80s bands as the Warner Theatre puts on the first community theater production of “Rock of Ages” in New England.
This musical has the feel of a rock show. Dancing in your seats and audience participation is encouraged!Director/choreographer Sharon Wilcox, also the Warner’s production manager, describes “Rock of Ages” in her message to the audience as a “simple show with a simple message,” quoting narrator and “dramatic conjurer” Lonny Barnett (Michael King), who says, “They are the perfect illustration that on the Strip, the dreams you come in with might not be the dreams you leave with…But hey, they still rock!” Small-town girl Sherrie Christian (Katie Brunetto) meets city boy/bar employee/singer-songwriter Drew Boley (Noel Roberge) when she begins working at L.A. staple The Bourbon Room on her quest to become an actress. Her dream spirals downward in their “friendship” after a tryst with rockstar Stacee Jaxx (Tony Leone) and her turn to exotic dancing at the Venus Club. But will Sherrie’s and Drew’s love for each other survive the journey?
Pun intended as their “Don’t Stop Believin'” duet tells all in a show-favorite number that represents the production and following your dreams. Both have powerful, yet sweet voices.Meanwhile, former star and The Bourbon Room bar owner Dennis Dupree (Kevin Sturmer) is fighting Hertz Klinemann (Dick Terhune) and his sprightly son, Franz Klinemann (Anthony Amorando) as they try to tear down the bar and other businesses on “The Strip” in a development plan.
On opening night last Saturday, the ushers handed out electronic lighters that lit up the audience. Seeing the glow from the main stage theater, which sits over 1,000, triggered a domino effect of lighter clicking and rocking out, unifying strangers with music. What a sight that must have been from the stage. That decision alone was sheer brilliance and it was also nice to take home a souvenir from the show. Honestly, the lighters make people interact more with the show and I don’t know if as many people would have danced in their seats without them. They’re like an invitation to rock in the show bar.
There’s nothing like hearing a song that you know, having it bring back memories to moments you heard it in your past and singing along to it. If you know and love any of these songs, this is definitely the show for you.
“Anyway You Want It,” “Beaver Hunt,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Cum on Feel the Noize,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “The Final Countdown,” “Harden My Heart,” “Heat of the Moment,” “Heaven,” “Here I Go Again,” “High Enough,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “I Wanna Rock,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Just Like Paradise,” “Keep on Lovin’ You,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” “More Than Words,” “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” “Oh Sherrie,” “Renegade,” “The Search is Over,” “Sister Christian,” “To Be With You,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “We Built This City” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.Given that all of the songs in the show are 80s rock music history that people may have heard in concert or on the radio, you can connect more to this show than a lot of musicals where the songs are written for the plays and contained to the productions.
The strongest parts of “Rock of Ages” are just when the performers are rocking out with the songs and dance numbers.The show’s “pit band,” Arsenal, is written into the show, backing all of the rock numbers. The instrumentalists or orchestra are often hidden from site under the stage, overshadowed in recognition by the actors, so it was refreshing to see the band highlighted and featured as characters like everyone else.
Music director/conductor/keyboardist Dan Ringuette (Steel Keyz), first guitarist Mark Garthwait (Waylin’ Stringz), second guitarist Meric Martin (Rikki Riffz), bass Dan Porri (Daxx Slaughter) and percussionist Nate Dobos (Izzy Drummond) take us on our rock journey.These performers gives the show a real rock concert quality. Vocals, instrumentals and dance in this production of “Rock of Ages” rise above volunteer community theater to true professionalism and spirit of Broadway.
A lot of the actors in the show actually are musicians and in bands performing paid gigs, such as Roberge, so they’re building on what they do in real life and giving you a real show. It’s nice to see live instrumentals instead of faked guitar playing in some shows where the actors don’t actually play.The plot of the show isn’t very deep and as a writer I’d normally want more from it, but I actually think the book drags the energy from the rock performances. The moments where it goes from song to song to song are the most dynamic and moving. However, the acting is incredible and every performer, whether a lead or ensemble member, puts in his and her all and fully develops each character to their core. There was not one person on stage that I didn’t think belonged there and each one was incredibly impressive.
The show doesn’t need a complex plot to be engaging and interesting, however. The lines are funny, from the character who introduces herself as Regina Koontz (AlexaRae Campagna), pronounced Redge-eye-na, to Arsenal yelling how they hate their lead singer, Stacee Jaxx (Leone).
The delivery of the characters are what makes the lines in this show compelling.
A highlight to me was the narrator, Lonny Barnett (Michael King) as our lovable, goofy rock tour guide who inserts himself into the story. As a community theater actress myself, I appreciated his jokes about the structure and style of elements typically included in a musical. I could tell he was wearing shirts with funny sayings on them, but my one complaint was not being able to see them from further back in the orchestra.
He paired well alongside Dennis Dupree (Kevin Sturmer). Their duet, “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore,” when they realize their love for each other, was priceless. Go, go Fogcaster 5000.Leone embodies rock as Stacee Jaxx, able to play charming and a womanizing jerk well as you see him go from a star to a washed-up drunk. What always amazes me about Leone is his versatility as an actor. He fully dives into the role from his powerful voice to every muscle and movement, making him fully believable in whatever character he plays. He also plays the father in the show alongside Erin West Reed as the mother.
Brunetto is always an actress that people pay money specifically to come see perform and sing in Connecticut’s community theater scene, also excelling as a dancer.Campagna was another standout actress as spunky activist Regina, who is trying to save “The Strip” and The Bourbon Room from being torn down. She was very light on her feet and her movements drove home the urgency in her messages and intent. Her voice was incredible, as well. Anthony Amorando is charmingly hilarious as the flamboyant, yet straight, German Franz Klinemann, a character who turns from nemesis to protagonist and Regina’s love interest.
Reed plays Venus Club’s Justice Charlier, who recruits Sherrie to be a stripper. Her alto voice has a smoky, jazzy quality to it that really impressed me.Ruben Soto had the groove (and the Afro!) as both the mayor and music producer Ja’Keith, though I admit I was confused distinguishing his characters. Sometimes the character names are hard to follow in the show, not being familiar with it. Soto also puts a lot of energy into dancing in the ensemble and has fantastic tenor vocals.
You might not ever know Waitress #1’s name, but Katie Chamberlain has a memorable performance.
Kaitlyn Anthony plays reporter Constance Stack and Peter Bard is Joey Primo. Christopher Franci takes on the role as a sleazy produer and Geoff Ruckdeschel plays a strip club DJ.
Caitlin Barra (Destiny), Sapphire (Lauren Jacob), Leanna Scaglione (Young Groupie) and Campagna (Candi) stand out as dancers that really emulate living life with their energy.Anthony, Bard, Barra, Chamberlain, Franci, Jacob, Ruckdeschel and Scaglione are also in the ensemble, as well as Stephen Lenczewski.
And I can’t forget the backstage singers even though you never see them — Anne DeMichiel, Martha Irving and Lana Peck.
Also, let’s hear it for all the wigs in the show! Everyone’s crimped, curled and big hair has its own character!There are a lot of people who made the show possible production-wise in addition to the directing team, including costumer Renee C. Purdy.
So, don’t miss the show of the ages.The Warner Theatre is located at 68 Main Street in Torrington. For more information on “Rock of Ages” and buying tickets for closing, and Valentine’s, weekend, you can visit www.warnertheatre.org or download the new Warner app.