- Rocking cast members include, from left, Hailey Calkins, Cloie Glenn, Natalie Manz, Scott Michaelsen, John Helms, Erik McGinnis (in front), Dakota Weeda and Keely Wirtz. submitted
eople sometimes use the term "Rock Opera" to describe shows like "Tommy," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Starlight Express," but if you get down to it, "Rock of Ages" exemplifies the term better than most. It takes the hair rock/glam metal of the 1980s (also affectionately known as "butt rock") and combines it with a sweetly sentimental story that combines nostalgia with the wistfulness of melodrama. The combination is infectious.
Built around '80s rock songs and a book by Chris D'Arienzo, the show premiered in 2005 in a Los Angeles club on Hollywood Boulevard. It had moved off-Broadway by 2008, making its Broadway debut in 2009, where it ran for 2,328 performances—making it the 29th longest running show in Broadway history.
The show follows an aspiring rockstar named Drew who works in a Hollywood club. Drew meets Sherrie, who just blew in from Kansas with dreams of making it big. They brush with stardom, hang with the rich and famous and fall in love, all set to songs you know by heart—whether you meant to or not.
When you go to a musical you're not familiar with, there's always a chance you won't connect with the music, even if you care about the characters. "Rock of Ages" works in reverse by giving the audience crowd-pleasing renditions of songs from bands including Poison, Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon, letting you fall in love with the characters existing in a world many are very familiar with.
- Cast members perform in "Rock of Ages."
Directing "Rock of Ages" was an easy choice for David DaCosta.
"I grew up with this music," he says. "Formative years. Teens and early 20s. It's literally a part of me. The themes, the stories, loves, heartbreaks, good times and tough times. The lyrics tell stories that fit and reflect our lives. That makes it all a natural fit for a musical. It's serious at times but never takes itself too seriously."
Don't just go in expecting two hours of cover songs, though. DaCosta has tapped Central Oregon's talent to craft something more than just a medley of greatest hits. "These guys are incredible. The sound is big and they have all really invested the time and energy into understanding the music they are singing. It's not just a parade of songs from the era. Things are extremely well woven into a true musical, like the music was written for that purpose. People are going to laugh a lot. They will be moved as well."
Even if you're not a fan of hair metal, the show has quite a bit to offer.
Actor Randy Brooks explains: I'm not really much a fan of '80s rock—it's like the one decade I've left behind in my musical preferences. To me, a lot of '80s rock feels hyper-theatrical, over the top, and sappy. But I found that by placing these über dramatic songs in the context of a musical, 'Rock of Ages' actually provides a solid base for the silly qualities in the music. The sort of heightened theatricality of musical theatre—an actor spontaneously bursting into song and dance, for example, is pretty false to life—somehow makes the music feel more genuine to me than it does when I hear it on the radio."
When I asked actress Keely Wirtz what audiences should expect from the show, her answer summed up everything I love about the performing arts. "For one, Bend is full of incredible talent, but I don't think that people will expect just how talented this cast is," says Wirtz. "There is not a weak cast member. I have gotten chills and started crying during rehearsals because the vocals are just so incredibly passionate and amazing that it moved me. Also, strippers." What else do you need??
Rock of Ages
Sep. 15-17 & 21-23
835 NW Wall St., Bend.