The Marcus Center for Performing Arts was rocking Tuesday night for the opening of the Broadway Across America touring company of ROCK OF AGES. The atmosphere at the theater was more like a rock concert, than a Broadway musical. And, for this particular brand of show, it worked spectacularly.
From the moment you enter the theater, 80's rock music plays, immediately transporting you back to the 80's - a time of big hair, rock and roll, glam, and good times! This show provides the audience with all of these in abundance.
Rock of Ages is the story of a small town girl, Sherrie, (played by Shannon Mullin with great naivety, excitement and emotion) who heads to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune as an actress. She gets a job at a legendary rock club (the Bourbon Room) on the sunset strip, surrounding herself by fellow fortune seekers who quickly become her surrogate family. Lonny (played by Justin Columbo with an amazing talent to pull the audience into the performance) serves as narrator for the show while working at the Bourbon room. Dennis (played Matt Ban who really seemed to become the character) owns the Bourbon room as serves as the father of the family. Along the way, Sherrie meets Drew (portrayed by Dominique Scott, in a head banging performance with an impressive vocal range), her soul mate. Throughout the show, the relationship is tested in a number of ways, some due the innocence of youth, others due to social and economic circumstances. Investors want to demolish this part of the strip to build typical strip malls, including stores like the Foot Locker. This would kill the dreams of most of the main characters, so they slowly begin to fight back, learning important lessons about themselves and the world while doing so.
The story is pulled together by some of the greatest songs of the 80's. All of these help to illustrate the story and bring the various characters together. The high energy and exciting songs include: "We Built This City.", "We're Not Gonna Take It," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," "Wanted Dead or Alive," and "Any Way You Want It."
The cast was amazing, each actor (from the principal players to those in supporting roles) truly inhabited the 80's bringing excess, excitement, and great energy. There were a few standout performances, though. Justice (Portrayed by Amma Osei), is the self-imposed mother to all of the strippers working at her club. Osei brings such a powerful presence to the stage that she seemed to challenge the rest of the cast to bring it even more. Her voice soared through the Marcus Center and brought goose bumps to those of us lucky enough to be watching the show. Franz is a comic relief character that helps bridge some of the tension going on during the show. Stephen Michael Kane brought the house down with his quirky mannerisms, positive energy, and great comedic timing.
ROCK OF AGES is a fun, exciting trip down memory lane, especially for anyone growing up in the 80's. Throughout the show, we get glimpses of other 80's type memorabilia – a giant cell phone (in comparison to today's standards), images of the old Arbys logo, 80's glam costumes, and hair. One of the things that I liked most is that it played more like a concert than a typical Broadway show. The audience jammed, chair dancing for most of the show and then getting up in their seats at the end to join the cast in one last song and dance.
If you are looking for a fun time to bring you out of your own troubles and want to rock the night away, Rock of Ages is for you!
ROCK OF AGES runs now through Sunday, November 18th. Prices start at $30 and vary depending on performance, seat location, and date of purchases. Tickets are available at the Marcus Center Box Office, 929 North Water Street, Downtown Milwaukee. They can be purchased by calling the box office at (414) 273-7206, online at Ticketmaster.com, or by calling (800) 982-2787. This Milwaukee engagement of Rock of Ages is present by Broadway at the Marcus Center (www.marcuscenter.org) and Broadway Across America-Milwaukee.
Photo: Lonny and the cast of ROCK OF AGES (Justin Colombo and Company) Photo By: Kate Egan