“We’re going to look like the audience’s high-school yearbook,” director Anthony Lawson promises of the upcoming show he’s overseeing, “Rock of Ages,” which opens Thursday night at Thalian Hall. Set in the ‘80s, the musical—produced by Thalian Association—is all-things fringe, leather, black tees, red suits, rolled jacket sleeves, and rock ‘n’ roll … hair metal included.
Though named after one of Def Leppard’s tracks from the 1983 album, “Pyromania,” the title song of the show will not be heard in the play; the band didn’t approve their music to be used when the rock musical premiered in 2005. Lawson says his version of the play addresses this from the get-go.
“But everything the ‘80s was is represented at least once here,” he promises. “It’s not just the rockers. We’ve got Euro-pop [and] the Flashdance fad.”
“Rock of Ages” follows the comings and goings of rock ‘n’ roll youth at the Sunset Strip’s legendary Bourbon Room. When it’s threatened to be demolished for the construction of a strip mall, heartthrob rocker Stacee Jaxx (Richard Rosario), small town Kansas girl Sherrie (Meagan Golden) and wannabe rocker Drew (Ty Myatt) decide to stand up and save the music. The arc of the story is held together thanks to the narrator (Tony DeLongo) who often breaks the fourth wall with the audience. “He’s the ringleader of insanity and rock goodness,” Lawson says. “Audiences will definitely connect with him.”
In essence, though, the show, by Chris D’Arienzo, is a boy-meets-girl love story, backed by rock anthems and ballads that everyone will recognize. Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Joan and the Blackhearts’ “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” as well as Europe’s “The Final Countdown” will be heard, alongside famed Bon Jovi, Journey and Whitesnake hits. Medleys will mash up fave artists as well, including Extreme, Mr. Big and Warrant in “More Than Words/To Be With You/Heaven.”
“It’s such a powerful moment in the show,” Ty Myatt says of the medley. “It’s in this song we start to see the love story develop between Drew and Sherrie in a more powerful way than just a simple crush. It’s also a cathartic moment for Drew alone, in which we find out what he really wants and how it makes him feel.”
Matt, who like his costar Golden, was actually born in the ‘90s, says the tune projects the roller coaster of emotions young love offers. Plus, it’s a rush to sing. “After the song is over, I just have to stand there and feel it for a few seconds until we continue with the lines,” he tells. The show challenges actors to push their voices to the optimum output, both physically and emotionally. It’s been one of the best learning experience for Matt.
“This is such a high-caliber role that I have to make sure I keep on top of my game in order to play it the way it needs to be played,” he continues. “I’ve never really tapped into my rock voice as much when it comes to shows, and I’m really glad I’m able to do that now, and have it be wanted and welcomed rather than just allowed to be in my performance.”
There’s more to the show than mere nostalgia of music. Hope and determination manage to sneak their way in between the lines and big song and dance numbers. “The theme of going for your dreams, taking chances, making the best of what you’ve got, and fighting for what you want are some of the themes that stick out for me,” explains Laura Brodgon, who plays Regina Koontz. “This is my first show back after having my first child. I wanted this role and I went for it, and I’m so glad I did.”
A product of the ‘80s, Brogdon relates to the show. She grew up watching MTV and mimicking videos and singing songs from the era. “It’s awesome getting to sing them on a stage instead of in the living room,” she says. The Damn Yankees’ “High Enough” stands out for Brogdon. “It’s my favorite power ballad, and watching our Sherrie and Drew sing it together … I can’t wait to see it with the lights and full band and costumes. It gets me in every rehearsal.”
Amanda Hunter will lead the band, while Terry Collins has crafted the set, primarily showing the Bourbon Room, with mobile pieces to roll on and off the stage as needed. Lawson has dressed the set with all of his favorite ‘80s things. “We have a couple of people in the cast and crew who were around for that era and they like to offer their two cents,” Lawson says. “I went out and bought some Rolling Stone magazines from the ‘80s and passed them around so the younger kids could see what was ‘cool.’ They took out their smart phones and snapped pictures of the old ads. That says something, doesn’t it…’
“Rock of Ages” opens Thursday, Sept. 29. Tickets are $30.