Hair metal of the ’80s gave us many things: guyliner, poodle ’dos, and pink spandex pants, whether we really needed them or not. But it also gave us that unique, balls-in-a-C-clamp screech epitomized by Bret Michaels, David Coverdale, and Dee Snider.
And while their falsetto howls may seem funny today, local stage star Victor Hunter, who’s appearing in Renegade Arts Co.’s new production of Rock of Ages, is here to tell you they’re no joke to perform.
He’s sung lead roles in everything from Theatre Under the Stars’ Shrek: The Musical to Align Entertainment’s Legally Blonde, and this show—packed with high-note-reaching hits like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”—requires a new level of vocal endurance.
“Because it’s a jukebox musical, we’re singing stuff not created for musical theatre, so it’s not a sustainable-for-eight-shows-a-week mentality,” he says, sharing a call with costar Synthia Yusuf. She plays small-town groupie Sherrie, the love interest of his Drew, an aspiring rocker who works at an L.A. club called the Bourbon Room while waiting for his big break.
“It is so at the higher range of what a man can sing. It’s wild,” Hunter stresses. “And you don’t want a musical-theatre sound. You want to sound like someone who’s been drinking whisky all day.”
Hunter had to find not only the vocal chops to do that, but also a new physicality—thanks largely to his costume. “I wanted to know ‘How do rock stars move on-stage with that confidence and that tight of pants?’ ” he says. “So I watched as many videos and as many bands as I could.”
Research came a little more directly for Yusuf; her parents proved invaluable sources of inspiration. “My parents were teens in the ’80s and that’s how I was able to find out the trends,” says the actor, whom you’ve seen in Chainsaw Artists Collective’s Heathers: The Musical and the Arts Club’s Beauty and the Beast. “There are photos of my mom with the full perm and crazy makeup. They’re so excited about the show.”
Like Hunter, she studied old music videos for songs she’d have to sing, the most batshit-crazy among them being the clip for Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart”—an earnest breakup song that comes complete with motorcycles, bulldozers, a Rindy Ross sax solo, and things that go boom. “Toward the end, there are flamethrowers and explosions happening—it makes absolutely no sense,” Yusuf says, laughing, and then she observes with the composure of an ancient-history scholar: “Music videos were quite new and it’s so interesting what they were doing with them artistically.”
Rock of Ages first appeared on Hollywood Boulevard in 2005 and debuted on Broadway four years later. To mark the 10th anniversary of that production, Renegade, a six-year-old company devoted to rock musicals from Tommy to Rent, is bringing it back in all its hairsprayed, debauched glory.
The best thing about this show, Hunter says, is it refuses to take itself seriously. “It’s tongue-in-cheek,” he says. “It’s willing to break the fourth wall.”
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in rehearsal,” Yusuf says. “The show is really funny and full of heart.”
And then there is the hair. For his part, Hunter will be sporting a shaggy bleach-blond wig. The long-tressed Yusuf is one of the few cast members able to utilize their own locks, but she won’t be going quite as far as her mom once did. “My hair will be my own, but with lots of teasing and lots of spray,” she says. “I’m not going to do a perm.”
Renegade Arts Co. presents Rock of Ages from Thursday (June 27) to July 6 at the Metro Theatre.