Nancy Sasso Janis
‘Rock of Ages’ blew on to the main stage at the Warner Theatre last night to a packed house. Billed above the title as “the one night stand you will always remember,” the Warner has the honor of being the first community theater in New England to bring this epic production to the stage. I raved about the touring company production that I saw at Waterbury’s Palace Theater, but I will certainly remember this opening night performance as an ‘event’ that I enjoyed even more because I knew so many of the community theatre veterans involved.
The shamelessly rock/jukebox musical has a paper-thin book by Chris D’Arenzio and arrangements and orchestrations of songs with music and lyrics by “a bunch of really sweet 80s bands” by Ethan Popp. The bands in what Executive Director Lynn Gelormino calls this “1980’s dream concert” include REO Speedwagon, Journey and Steve Perry, Pat Benatar, Styx, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake and Europe (but not Def Leppard until after the curtain call.) The song list in tiny print fills an entire page in the program, although some pieces are mashed up with others, or just appear in snippets, but the choral arrangements of many are fabulously performed by this outstanding cast under the musical direction of Dan Ringuette. The conductor was decked out in an 80s wig but on his monitor looked to be enjoying himself anyway.
Sharon A. Wilcox looked very 80s herself as she introduced the show on opening night. A self-admitted 80s baby, Ms. Wilcox has been waiting a long time to direct and choreograph this show (that she saw on Broadway a whopping ten times) and she encouraged the audience to sing, clap and dance along. She didn’t have to ask me twice, and I waving the faux lighter I found under my seat made it even more real. This truly was “an epic production of big dreams, big egos and even bigger hair” that “doesn’t need a complex plot to make you feel--it just needs characters who don’t take themselves too seriously and a rockin’ score of classic 80s music.”
The actors shouldn’t take themselves too seriously either, but they all need to be outstanding singers and dancers. Costumes designed by Renee Purdy and Aurora Montenero brought the 80s back in its colorful and sexy glory and the big hair wigs were gravity defying. The girls in the ensemble wore very little (and even less in the Venus Club scenes) and the guys were very glam metal; they gave their dancing everything they had. Kudos to every member of the rockin’ ensemble for bringing down the house.
The guys in the onstage band “Arsenal” embraced the era in every way and were almost unrecognizable. With the help of the program I managed to figure out that they included Mr. Ringuette on keyboard, Mark Garthwait on guitar, Meric Martin on guitar, Dan Porri on bass and Nate Dobos on drum kit.
Michael King made his Warner debut as the “dramatic conjurer” Lonny Barnett, the sound guy who serves as the show’s narrator. He was a natural, very funny and just a little endearing as he often broke the fourth wall. Erin West Reed (‘Peter Pan’ himself at the Warner) sang the heck out of the role of Venus Club owner Justice Charlier. Kevin Sturmer took on the role of aging rocker and Sunset Strip club owner Dennis Dupree and did it well.
Bristol native Noel Roberge, who was a standout as the balladeer in ‘Assassins,’ was perfect for the role of the young busboy/rocker Drew Boley and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role of his beloved Sherrie Christian than the fabulously talented Katie Brunetto. Tony Leone (St. Jimmy in ‘American Idiot’) was wonderful as the heartthrob rocker Stacee Jaxx.
AlexaRae Campagna was adorable as the feisty Regina Koontz, a girl on a mission to save the strip, and quick-changed to play a stripper named Candi. Ruben Soto (‘Ragtime’) was great as the mayor and Ja’Keith. Dick Terhune (‘The 39 Steps’) came back to the Warner stage to play developer Hertz Klinemann and Anthony Amorando made his Warner debut as his son Franz. Katie Chamberlain was billed as Waitress #1, Kaitlyn Anthony was a reporter and Peter Bard played Stacee’s replacement Joey Primo. Rounding out the cast was Caitlin Barra as Destiny, Lauren Jacob as Sapphire, Christopher Franci as a sleazy producer, Geoff Ruckdeschel as the strip club DJ and Leanna Scaglione as a young groupie.
The ‘ROA’ experience began even before the show did with loud 80s music and an authentic and busy set with neon and Christmas lights. Pumped up lighting by Andrew Smith included the house at times, and there were projections as well. The big crowd was as loud as the music and it was appropriate. While the members of ‘Arsenal’ made up an exciting band, there were times in the first act that they drowned out the dialog, or at least made it difficult to understand. Otherwise the sound was well-balanced and loud, of course. I so wanted to join the backstage singers Anne DeMichiel, Martha Irving, and Lana Peck.
Don’t miss this loud trip through the 80s with a stellar cast that ROCKS in every way. ‘Rock of Ages’ runs at the Warner through Feb. 14.
Photo Credit: Mandi Martini ©2016 The Warner Theatre