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A WINK AND NOD TO THE ‘80S: ‘Rock of Ages’ produces big numbers, big laughs

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Humor and metal merge in ‘Rock of Ages.’

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“That’s the best show Thalian Association has produced in years,” my theatre companion exclaimed, with a wide smile that formed into giddy laughter as we left “Rock of Ages,” the ‘80s arena-rock musical now showing at Thalian Hall.

METAL MOUTHS: The cast of “Rock of Ages” will be a greatest hits of the ‘80s to stage this week. Courtesy Thalian Association

METAL MOUTHS: The cast of “Rock of Ages” will be a greatest hits of the ‘80s to stage this week. Courtesy Thalian Association

“Ya know, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go at first,” her significant other responded. “But it really became something entirely different and enjoyable as it moved along.”

He was right. Once the cast of “Rock of Ages” settled into their roles toward the end of Act I, and the audience grasped the show as a parody on the culture of hair-metal bands and over-the-top ‘80s paradigms, it became everything it was meant to be: pure fun—clichés and stereotypes be damned.

Many may recognize “Rock of Ages” from the 2012 film starring Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise. Based on the 2005 musical by Chris D’Arienzo, the stage show ran for 2,328 performances before closing on Broadway in January 18, 2015. Needless to say, it’s a premiere for Wilmington audiences.

The plot is simple and, quite frankly, matters very little in the scope of things: Small-town girl Sherrie (Meagan Golden) moves to L.A. with dreams to become an actress. After meeting a few seedy rockers—Dennis (Mark Deese), Lonny (Tony DeLongo) and Drew (Ty Myatt)—who help run the famed Bourbon Room on Sunset Strip, she lands a job that introduces her to the underbelly of the City of Angels and the rock world. And it’s far from the upright morals from her Kansas hometown. When two German real-estate moguls fly in to raze the Bourbon Room, the entire cast becomes a part of the fight to save the music and, essentially, their dreams.

Narrating the show and constantly breaking the fourth wall by flirting with or heckling audience members is Tony DeLongo as Lonny. DeLongo acts as the maestro guiding the music—err, in this case, the action—foreshadowing events and being a stream of consciousness, in a sense, to the larger story arc between actors. DeLongo nails the humor the show thrives on better than most. With his approach to the role as a cross between Tenacious D and Meatloaf, he’s an ever-entertaining presence, from body language to raucous quips. He reminds the audience not to take everything unfolding onstage so seriously. And his pipes—as heard in the opening, “Just Like Paradise/Nothing But a Good Time”—captivate from the get-go.

Ty Myatt is a newer face to the Wilmington theatre scene. Though he impressed in Thalian’s “The Addams Family” production last fall, he’s returning in one of the main roles this time around as Drew. Myatt really has turned up the volume in his craft, specifically his vocal pitch in songs like Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is” and Damn Yankees’ “High Enough.” They certainly stretch into window-shattering heights without breaking or shaking. He does it with such ease, it seems the ‘90s-born lad was meant to sing everything wild and shrieking from the era.

The German moguls, Hertz (James Bowling) and Franz (Zeb Mimms), practically steal every scene in “Rock of Ages.” With their bright colored suits and brighter white-yellow hair, I endearingly coined them “neon Muppets.” They manage to always get lippy from the sidelines, yet somehow stay adorable enough to hug, despite their nefarious plans to turn Sunset Strip into a homogenized strip mall. Mims completely wins the musical highlight of the night with his amazing take on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in Act II. Laughter not only erupted from the audience, it stayed with them after the show, as whispers permeated the theatre about its light-hearted impact.

Richard Rosario as a Brett Michaels/Steven Tyler mashup known as “Stacee Jaxx” revels in the rock ridicule known from ‘80s hair bands—tongue wags, side splits and salacious affairs included. Rosario officially is the go-to actor in town for any rock role (he last played the lead, Johnny, in “American Idiot”), thanks to his handsome looks and bad-boy swagger. It completely works to his advantage here. But what I liked most about his iteration of this well-known character is how goofy he tends to play it. It’s perfect.

Of course, even though the show is meant to be a jovial nod and a wink to an era borne of overexaggeration and cheese, for it to work, the cast needs to be in on the joke always. Most of the time, they are. Some of the fluff gets lost in the seriousness often portrayed by Golden’s Sherrie. Though she nails small-town innocence—even if it means turning one of my favorite ‘80s songs, “Sister Christian,” into a vanilla aberration—she needs more vamp and charm in songs like Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

D’Arienzo’s dialogue in the show is atrocious, so no one should go in expecting to be bowled over by insight. In fact, his script really is only a loose thread to highlight music from the ‘80s and string together their many silly messages. He utilizes “Rock of Ages” to mock everything about the “me me me era,” from acid wash jeans to Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. Most of the time, it totally works.

Amanda Hunter’s band nails the music, with Jared Cline shredding a few screeching guitar solos worthy of encores. With director Anthony Lawson blocking some fun ensemble choreography (the choir singing “Heaven” in Act I definitely stands out) and filling up a set with ‘80s regalia—“The Legend of Billie Jean” poster included—it’s far from a quiet riot! In fact, it does get wild, wild wild!

Rock of Ages
Oct. 6-9, 7:30 p.m.;
Sun. matinees, 3 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$30
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.

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