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Review: Croswell's rollicking 'Rock of Ages' cranks up the heat

Courtesy of The Croswell Opera House


The outrageous and uproarious jukebox musical “Rock of Ages” lands for the first time on The Croswell stage just in time for its ten year anniversary. With a hip and retro score that spans some of the biggest classic rock hits of the ‘80s, and a self-referential book by Chris D’Arienzo, the over-the-top musical, set on LA’s Sunset Strip during the Reagan era, dares to take us to a better time. Complete with wine coolers, sexy women in strip clubs, and crude humor that could make your grandma blush. Wait, does anyone drink wine coolers anymore?

This isn’t a groundbreaking or a tasteful musical, but it’s one of the best times I’ve had in a theatre this year. Under the direction of Mark DiPietro, who gives his cast the freedom to completely own a meta-theatrical narrative, the hilarious script is filled with raunchy jokes, quirky sight gags, and consistently breaks the fourth wall in an effort to let the audience in on the action. We’re guided on this journey by the robustly entertaining Eric Parker playing Lonny, the assistant manager of the Bourbon Room, who recounts the history of the club and the struggle to save it from the clean-up attempts of a German developer (John Bacarella - hilarious) and a doofus mayor (William E McCloskey - always a gem on The Croswell stage). 

Lonny also tells the tale of a lucrative farewell concert headlined by the flamingly egotistical rockstar Stacee Jaxx (Dan Clair hamming it up in a sidesplitting portrayal) and his soon-to-be former band Arsenal. Just as important to the narrative, is the relationship of a “small town girl’” and aspiring actress Sherrie Christian (Jordan Golomb) and rock-star wannabe Drew Boely (Jordan Khalaf) who both have electric chemistry and the pipes to give iconic songs like Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” some new flavor. Under the music direction of Dave Rains (rocking a slick mullet) and his band who live on stage during the entire show, “Rock of Ages” sounds terrific. You could feel the energy in the room as soon as the opening chords to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” started playing. 

Speaking of high energy, this cast clearly has their work cut out for them, considering most of the songs in the musical’s catalog are either beloved or regarded as classics. It helps that DiPietro stages the show as if it were a rock concert, and with Jessica Adams-Briggs' fist-pumping choreography elevating the musical sequences, “Rock of Ages” is the perfect marriage of script and creative team. Other noteworthy standouts include Jordan Hayes-Devloo as Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Bourbon Room, scoring big laughs on several occasions (and belts it loud and proud during Europe’s “The Final Countdown”) and his constant paring with Parker’s Lonny feels like a match made in heaven. Gary Lundy shows he’s got some pipes alongside a spunky Lori MacDonald singing Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” and there’s the boisterous Kris Haymon - sporting a solid German accent - as Franz Klinemann. Natasha Ricketts gets to showcase her dominant vocals as Justice Charlier who owns the strip club downtown populated with a hellacious dance ensemble who, let’s just say, go above and beyond to earn their applause- and Hannah Sparrow as Regina McKaig (not pronounced as you think) uses her sound stage presence to help make Twister Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take it” memorable. 

On the technical side, Dave Nelms (set), Marianne Steele (costumes), Tiff Crutchfield (lights), Crospy Slupe (projections), and Chris Goosman (sound) do a stellar job at capturing the glitz and debauchery of the Sunset Strip and rock genre as a whole. From the sleazy bathrooms, strobe lights, long hair, black eyeliner, and scanty clothing worn by many of the female ensemble, “Rock of Ages” feels like a real transportation through time, which should come recommended with a three drink minimum as to give audiences the liquid courage to sing along.

Though it goes without saying, “Rock of Ages” isn’t a deep or metaphorical piece of contemporary theatre - even Lonny at one point professes he’s “Narrating a show with poop jokes and Whitesnake songs!” which, in essence, sums up the musical almost perfectly. If you can take the show on those slummy merits, and embrace the ridiculous humor with a wink and a nod, then you’re in for a howling time at The Croswell Opera House. Get ready to rock!

The Croswell's production of ROCK OF AGES continues through October 27th. To purchase tickets and see showtimes click here

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