By Chris D'Arienzo. Directed by Chris Adams. A Renegade Arts Co. production. At the Metro Theatre on Friday, June 28. Continues until July 6
The cast and crew of the Renegade Arts Co. clearly had the time of their lives creating their production of Rock of Ages. But even though the show is fun, it gets caught in the weeds of technical problems and source-material sins, which sap some of the life out of this rock n’ roll celebration.
Rock of Ages is a jukebox musical built around the greatest glam-metal hits of the '80s, from the likes of Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, and Twisted Sister.
The story follows small-town Sherrie (Synthia Yusuf), who moves to Los Angeles to become an actress, and falls in love with aspiring rock star Drew (Victor Hunter). Meanwhile, the club they both work at is threatened with demolition. It’s a show best watched with your brain switched off and your nostalgia glasses firmly on, but in the right hands, it’s an evening of silly, synth-heavy fun.
This production, though, fumbles it occasionally. Opening night was plagued by sound issues; microphones dropped in and out, and more feedback blared than at an actual rock concert. Even at the best of times, the band was usually too loud, and drowned out the dialogue (not that that would affect your understanding of this show’s plot, but still). The lighting design team, too, seems to have forgotten that this wasn’t actually a rock show, and if you blind the audience with spotlights, they’ll miss the choreography.
The ensemble, too, is sadly inconsistent. Sometimes its members were a dynamic powerhouse of vocals and dance, rocking out with tight, polished energy during numbers like the final “Don’t Stop Believin’”, which brought down the house. Other times, they’re all over the place. Charlie Deagnon as Lonny, the show’s de facto narrator, has solid singing, but the character's irritating, disruptive fourth-wall breaks grind the show to a halt at its biggest emotional climaxes.
The show is almost saved by its leads, who both give charmingly sweet performances. Yusuf is the best singer of the cast by a mile, and her Sherrie delivers Broadway-quality belts that shine out in the badly-mixed soundscape. Hunter gets his moments too, as he nails the high notes with that perfect hard-rock quality in songs like “I Wanna Know What Love Is”.
Rock of Ages is a mixed bag, with great highs that don’t quite make up for the disappointing lows. But there is still something to enjoy about it, even just as an indulgent reminiscence of wild '80s sensibilities; it's rich in heart, if not in finesse.