Rock of Ages lets its hair down at PPAC

Can’t fight this feeling
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 5, 2011

HOOK ’EM The Rock crew.

Rock of Ages is such an explosive, face-melting jukebox musical that only afterward do we realize it didn't include two hours of skyrocket pyrotechnics — although all the laser beams through fog come close.

The hyperventilating rock musical is peeling the gilding off the chandeliers at the Providence Performing Arts Center through October 9.

A rudimentary story, the book by Chris D'Arienzo surrounds a couple of self-destructive clichéd characters, but we eventually stop wanting to smack them sensible. Everything is just an excuse to enjoy late '80s hair rock.

That hair is big and the pounding hits are bigger, from the likes of Whitesnake, Styx, Asia, Joan Jett, Night Ranger, Quarterflash, and many more.

The storyline is more of a clothesline, with songs hung as closely together as practical. We are in 1987 Hollywood, and narrator Lonny (Justin Colombo) explains the set-up, belting out "Just like Paradise" and "Nothin' but a Good Time" (by David Lee Roth and Poison) with the company in the first of many high-octane arm-churning production numbers.

Seems that rock star hopeful Drew Foley (Dominique Scott) finds himself a lowly busboy in a Hollywood Sunset Strip club called the Bourbon Room, working under kindly owner Dennis Dupree (Matt Bann). Hired as a waitress is acting aspirant Sherrie Christian (Shannon Mullen), just arrived from Kansas but at least not dressed and pigtailed like Dorothy. Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" strikes the right tone for Drew to sing with the company as Sherrie encourages him to keep hoping. Their potential romance gets put on hold, despite their singing Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You," when, to cool their nervousness, he foolishly says that they're just friends. Not to worry, they will be singing Survivor's "The Search Is Over" with the ensemble by the end of the show.

The show is having harmless fun with the stereotype of the hapless but talented loser who eventually lives his dream. But Adam John Hunter's recreation of the original Los Angeles direction of Kristin Hanggi has Drew pump up the annoying dweebishness rather than play against it, so the romance is something we care about for the story rather than for him.

When it's Sherrie's turn to make a foolish youthful mistake (so she can make up for it later, she falls for the transparently slick charms of Stacee Jaxx (Matt Nolan). The rock star has been begged by the club owner to perform with the house band for their final gig. To entertain himself, he seduces Sherrie with a sensitive-guy act and they have sex in the men's room. Understandably, this doesn't go down well with Drew.

There are bad guys on the outside too. Hertz (Philip Peterson) and son Franz (Stephen Michael Kane) are a couple of sleazy German land developers who have bribed the mayor to let them tear down the Sunset Strip. Working against them is feisty young Regina (Katie Postotnik). She organizes protesters who chain themselves together so that the Bourbon Room and other landmarks won't be bulldozed. Despite Franz's entrepreneurial interests and job as a villain, he falls in love with Regina and the sound of her name, a recurring laugh-getter (must be because it's pronounced to rhyme with Carolina).

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