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REVIEW: "Rock of Ages"

KO Rinearson
Cast of "Rock of Ages" from Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.
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It’s hard to say whether the jukebox musical Rock of Ages is a compilation of clichés or is just one big fat cliché. Maybe it doesn’t matter because the show doesn’t take itself with a whit of seriousness. It is a big fat wink, as if to say, look, we know this show isn’t much, but let’s put away the world’s woes and have some nostalgic fun for two-and-a-half hours.

The show’s score consists of classic rock songs from about the mid-to late 1980s. With a book by Chris D’Arienzo and arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp, Rock of Ages has been around in various incarnations since 2005, including a Broadway production in the first half of this decade. Lyric Theatre is staging the show now at the Plaza in a production that’s remarkably well done.

Two plotlines run through the show, which is set in the 1980s on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. An aspiring young actress from Paola, Kansas, named Sherrie meets an aspiring young rock musician from Detroit named Drew. They bond over Slurpees. The awkwardness of young love leads to misunderstandings that propel the plot.

At the same time, the evil German developer Hertz and his son, Franz, want to tear down a beloved dive bar and performance venue for rock bands and put up a shopping center. (The plot bears an uncanny resemblance to our recent kerfuffle over the Donnay Building, right down to the dive bar.)

The show teems with 1980s references, catchphrases, slang and music. One character wears a tee shirt with the legend “Here’s The Beef.” If you don’t get the joke, you weren’t around in the ‘80s. Jeffrey Meek designed the flamboyantly authentic costumes.

Uldarico Sarmiento’s scenic design creates the dive bar in seedy detail. You can almost the smell barf in the men’s room. Posters of real and fictional bands adorn the walls of the theater. Strings of lights with brassieres thrown over them hang above the audience. You’ll appreciate the cell phones the size of bricks, among other period pieces. Props are by Courtney Strong.

Under the sure hands (and feet) of director Ashley Wells and choreographer Amy Reynolds-Reed, the cast and band give extraordinarily strong performances. This show’s top-notch band comprises guitarists Than Medlam and Jay Gleason, bassist Clinton Trench, drummer Mike Mosteller and keyboardist/music director Brian Hamilton. Sound designer Bryce Wood balances the power the music needs with the Plaza’s excellent acoustics. As with most rock music, a lot of the lyrics are unintelligible.

The strong cast includes Lyric regulars and newcomers, with not a weak performance among them. Gregory DeCandia is our narrator and resident wisecracker. Lauren Urso, a belter, plays Sherrie with studied sincerity. Derrick Medrano gives a heartfelt performance as Drew.

Lexi Windsor is spot on as the hippy-dippy Regina (pronounced Re-JYE-na). Justin Larman and Keith Gruber are fine as Hertz and Franz. Vince Leseney is the bar owner, a holdover from the 1970s. The buff Joshua Hobbs plays the arrogant rocker Stacee Jaxx, who acts like Harvey Weinstein.

In musical theater, most songs in a show are diegetic, that is, the characters do not realize they are singing. Examples of non-diegetic songs are “Edelweiss” in The Sound of Music and “Cum on Feel the Noize” (Quiet Riot) in this show.          

Thus, the problem with this and all jukebox musicals is that the diegetic songs pertain to the plot generally, not particularly. In this show, the music works best as parody (Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”) or comedy (REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling”).

If ‘80s rock is your music, you might get something out of this trifle (singing along is encouraged and waiters serve drinks in what look like test tubes). But for the rest of us, the show is the theatrical equivalent of a Slurpee.

Rock of Ages
Thursday, October 12th, 2017 8:00pm to Saturday, November 4th, 2017 7:00pm
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
1725 NW 16th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
405-524-9312
Prices from: $25.00

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About the Author

Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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