Relive ‘80s Magic

01 Aug 2023

Mountain Theatre Company’s Rock of Ages

By Lisa Gray Youngblood

Running from July 28 to August 19, Mountain Theatre Company and Director Scott Daniel present Rock of Ages at the Highlands Performing Arts Center. Rock of Ages is a hilarious jukebox musical about young love, the rock scene on LA’s Sunset Strip in the 1980s, and the forces of change (namely economic development) that swept the nation at that time.

The story revolves around two young people who have made their way to LA in pursuit of their dreams. Drew (Scott Silagy), an aspiring singer, longs for rock-n-roll fame. Sherrie (Morgan Milone), who has just found her way to LA from Kansas, longs for fame on the big screen. Both are sweet and innocent and hilariously inept at expressing their feelings for one another. We watch as they bump along, making mistake after mistake, knowing they will eventually find each other even if they do not believe it. Beneath the romance lies a different story about a war of economics and the proposed leveling of a beloved rock-n-roll club, the Bourbon Room, to make way for a shiny, new and economically viable strip mall.

But the story is not the heart of this show, and no one asks the audience to take it too seriously. The heart of the show is the music. It honors many of the great ‘80s rock anthems, such as Starship’s “We Built This City,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Whitesnake’s “Here I go Again,” REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” All songs are played by a live, on-stage rock band that serves as its own important character and rocks the theater. Matthew Stern (keyboard), Andrew Dodge (guitar 1), Jeffery Dunn (guitar 2), Matthew Pantanella (drums) and Evan Rogers (bass) are spot on in every song. In fact, some surprise guitar solos had the audience applauding wildly.

We are guided through our journey by good-natured goof and employee of the Bourbon Room, Lonny (Hunter Emmett Burke), who takes great pleasure in reminding us that this is only a play—so we should just relax and have some fun. If fun is something to which you are inclined, you will be pleased. It is a big hair, electric guitar, head-banging, metal loving party that both makes fun of the excesses of the time and honors the music and its place in history.

Hats off to Beck Jones, Costume Designer, who hits the fashion of the time with absolute precision, each character donning costumes that transport us to a time when rock ruled. Bringing it all together, Scott Daniel, Hair and Makeup Designer, seals the deal with wild and bigger-than-life makeup and hairdos that belong uniquely to this time. Bravo to both. Of course, we cannot forget the fog machine, endemic to the culture, which makes numerous appearances and is practically worshipped on the altar of rock.

The choreography is also spot on. Erin Leigh Knowles creates a symphony of movement in numerous ensemble dance numbers that steal the show. For me, the finest moments—the biggest moments—were when the performers acted in concert and commanded the theater. The music itself is bold and loud, and the collective voices mirror the power and excitement of it. It was a balancing act that worked every time.

The cast is strong across the board, but there are a few stand-out performances. J’Quay Gibbs has a commanding presence and voice, and they nail the role as Justice, the big-hearted and protective owner of the dance club where Sherrie is ultimately employed. J’Quay’s vocals and acting are outstanding.

Deep into the second act, we find some wonderful surprises. Alex Pletikapich, who plays Franz, the son of the German developer and villain Hertz, is thrust center stage and nails it. His performance is hilarious, tender and even a tad mischievous. Erin Leigh Knowles, who plays his love interest and do-gooder warrior for the proletariat Regina, offers the same tongue-and-cheek nuances of drama and comedy and is downright irresistible. The duo steal the show in every scene they share.

Russell Muzyczka, who plays Stacee Jaxx, the deplorable, self-indulgent rock star everyone loves to hate, also commands the stage, pulling off the quintessential bad (and ridiculous) boy act with top-notch vocals. He is hilarious and true to the music.

The show is grounded by Matthew McGee, who plays Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Bourbon Room. He hits all the right chords both in his songs and his presence. As basically the only adult in the room, he manages the young and wild rockers and their fans, taking on the burdens they cannot fully see. He is also hilarious, and his performance of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” with Hunter Emmett Burke (Lonny) is a highlight.

Sherrie (Morgan Milone) and Drew (Scott Silagy), our love-struck stars, have numerous numbers throughout and great on-stage chemistry. Many of these vocals are challenging in range, but both keep up and invite us into the world of rock’s metal edge. From the beginning, the audience was rooting for them.

Brook Searcy, Waitress 1 (affectionately referred to as such in the play itself), is also a standout in her duet with Sherrie. Her voice immediately garnered the attention of the audience.

If you want to laugh and feel good and remember the time that was the ‘80s, you will not want to miss this show. Rock of Ages transports us to a time of indulgence, freedom and some great music sure to stand the test of time. Enjoy!

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