“Rock of Ages” Rolls into Federal Warsaw Incline Theater

Review by Nathan Top of “Rock of Ages”: Incline Theatre

As an American art form, musical theater has been defined and redefined over the years, reflecting the culture and the values of the time at which they are performed, often giving audiences a taste of the “now.” Audiences often do wonder why a story is being told at a specific time.

And then there is “Rock of Ages.”

Set in the mid-80s Los Angeles at the fictional legendary “Bourbon Room” bar, “Rock of Ages” tells the story of busboy Drew and his quest to make it as a rockstar while, at the same time, move out of the friend zone into a more serious relationship with aspiring actress and co-worker Sherrie. Meanwhile, a quirky community of characters comprised of the bar patrons, workers, and groupies band together to save the legendary “Bourbon Room” from being demolished by city planners. The script, written by Chris D’Arienzo, is breezy and humorous, if not frivolous, and still manages to scrape together a coherent story.  However, the real selling feature of this rom-com made for stage is the score, which is comprised of over thirty 80s glam metal bands including Journey, Styx, Pat Benatar, and Twisted Sister, just to name a few. 

The show opens by shattering the fourth wall with the first of several innuendo infused monologues given by the narrator Lonny, played by the funny and engaging Christopher Logan Carter.  Robert Breslin IV, who plays primary protagonist Drew, is appropriately hopeful and innocent while Tina Dealderete, Drew’s love interest, carries her role with simultaneous strength and empathy. Her solo on Extreme’s “More Than Words” is both beautiful and heartbreaking. The magnetic Tyler Kuhlman, portraying the sexually charged rock star Stacee Jaxx, pushes the limits of his character with his suggestive number “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and Gabriyel Thomas, playing gentleman’s club owner Justice, stops the show with both of her numbers “Any Way You Want It” and “Shadows of the Night.” The show peaks with the duet  “Can’t Fight This Feeling” between Lonny and Dennis (Gregory K. Shaffer), which earned explosive applause from the audience.

Set designer Brett Bowling created a fun and versatile world for the stage, reflective of your typical dingy rock bar. Before the show, there is actually a bar on stage where patrons can go up and order drinks. Costume designer Caren Brady also captures the era with her work, notably with Justice’s ensemble.

The members of the on-stage pit, comprising a rock band, also double as minor characters in the show. Unfortunately, either due to sound mixing or amp placement, I could only hear lead guitar and drums in the pit. For the first third of the show, I was convinced that the keyboard and bass player were unplugged and only upon consulting the program did I discover that there was not one but two guitar players. The lack of bass in the mix made most of the musical numbers feel hollow. 

Is “Rock of Ages” a genre-defying work set on redefining what theater means to the world? No. But it is boisterous and loud and very fun. So if you are able to turn your brain off for a couple of hours and just have a banging good time, come check out Warsaw Theater’s “Rock of Ages,” playing now until October 13th.