Carnegie Rocks the House in ‘Rock of Ages’

Review by Doug Iden of Rock of Ages: Carnegie Theatre.

Ellie Chancellor and Kelcey Steele in
Ellie Chancellor and Kelcey Steele in “œRock of Ages“

Rock of Ages certainly lives up to its title.  The Carnegie season opener is loud, raucous, audacious, exuberant, outrageous, colorful, vibrant, vulgar, silly and a lot of fun.  And did I mention LOUD?  Based upon the audience attendance and reactions, the show will be a major success.  The audience was actively clapping and singing along to a collection of 1980“™s rock songs by noted glam bands which comprise the score.

This recent Broadway hit is virtually a review with the many rock songs tied together by a gossamer thin thread of a story.  The plot, such as it is, addresses an attempt by a German entrepreneur to raze and re-develop a large chuck of the Sunset Strip including a rock night club called The Bourbon Room.  However, the club“™s owner, Dennis Dupree, played by Daniel Cooley, along with his staff,  club supporters and the City Planner Regina (played by Heather Hale) fight back to save the club.  The primary love interest includes Sherrie Christian (Elle Chancellor), a wannabe actress from Kansas, and Drew Dillenbeck (Kelcey Steele) a busboy at the club and aspiring rocker.  It“™s the typical “œboy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again“ musical plot.  The entire show is narrated by Lonnie (James Jones) who frequently breaks the “œfourth wall“ by conversing directly with the audience, constantly reminding us that we are watching a musical and the characters“™ actions and dialogue are dictated by the book writer.  Jones clearly is enjoying his role and virtually steals each scene that he is in.

The primary romantic leads are handsome, youthful and energetic with a good chemistry between them.  Chancellor, in particular, has an excellent voice and is one of the few singers who could project beyond the cacophony of the onstage rock band.  Steele has a complementary voice but not as strong.  Daniel Cooley (club owner Dennis Dupree) was a constant manic presence and good rock and roll singer.  Tyler Kuhlman (playing Stacee Jaxx) satirized the archetypal egomaniacal rocker.

Under choreographer Roderick Justice, the dancing was constant, frenetic and sexy.  The ensemble, comprised primarily of NKU students or alums, were excellent through a number of major production numbers including “œFeel the Noize“, “œThe Final Countdown“ and the finale,  “œDon“™t Stop Believing“.  The dancers and singers would frequently go into the aisles to encourage the audience to participate with clapping or singing.  One of the best scenes which tied the music to the dramatic context of the show featured the song “œEvery Rose Has a Thorn“ which encapsulated each of the love stories and led to the finale.

Music Director (and keyboarder) Jamey Strawn and the band played almost continuously and provided the proper backdrop for the show.  And did I mention that they were loud?

The set design (Ryan Howell), costumes (Cheyenne Hamberg) and lighting (Erik McCandless) all added to the overall appeal of the show.  The set was reminiscent of 1980“™s rock night clubs with a lot of lights and beer signage.  The grunge costumes were typical and the flashing lights added to the electricity of the show (pun intended).

Personally, I have a mixed reaction to the show itself.  Rock and roll is not my favorite music and the humor was very sophomoric.  I had trouble hearing many of the lyrics, which probably was a blessing in disguise.  However, The Carnegie production was excellent.

Rock of Ages continues at The Carnegie through August 28.

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