Fans of 1980s rock were nearer to heaven as they filtered into the Des Moines Civic Center to see the 10th anniversary tour of “Rock of Ages.” It was a musical that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the audience loved it. It paid homage to the hair bands of the ‘80s and included plenty of hit songs to complete the story like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,” Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” among others.
For those not familiar with the story, it’s a musical set in the late ‘80s on the Sunset Strip in California when rock ‘n’ roll was still alive, but the culture was perhaps starting to change. There were plenty of Hollywood and rock wannabes still hanging around, trying to make it big.
I was familiar with the story because of the 2012 film version starring Tom Cruise. While the setting, songs and characters were similar, I noticed quite a few differences which made the stage production stand out. The movie was not my favorite. I would much rather put on the soundtrack and not watch the off-the-wall performances. I found myself enjoying the stage production much more than the movie. While there were some over-the-top moments, it worked much better on stage than in film.
The difference started from the first note when Lonny (John-Michael Breen) stepped on stage and began setting the scene for the audience. There was no narrator in the film and the role of Lonny was not featured as heavily. Breen did an awesome job as the show’s front man and was easily my favorite character of the performance. He really set the tone for what was about to come. Lonny works at Dupree’s Bourbon Room on the strip, the place where most of the show takes place.
One of the main differences in the stage production was the villain . Hertz (Andrew Tebo) and his son Franz (Sam Harvey) use money and influence to begin buying or seizing property on the Sunset Strip in order to modernize the area. They believe the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll culture was bad for the community. When Hertz and Franz target the Bourbon Room, that’s when the people rally and try to save rock ‘n’ roll.
The love story of the show was fully intact when rock wannabe Drew (Anthony Nuccio) meets aspiring actress Sherrie (Katie LaMark). Both Nuccio and LaMark were fantastic on stage. Nuccio has a rock heavy singing part, and he delivered on all accounts. LaMark sang and danced beautifully throughout the production, making you really root for the couple to succeed.
The part of Stacee Jaxx, the rock legend, varied quite a bit from the Tom Cruise portrayal. Sam Harvey embodied all of the wacky quirks a rock band’s lead singer should have; however, the film gives Stacee Jaxx some redeemable qualities where there are none to be found on stage. Perhaps it is a more true account of what an egotistical rocker stereotype would do in that time and place. Harvey played the part well, having the singing chops to pull off the rock range.
The true heroes of the show were the band members rocking every song throughout the performance. I am used to traditional musical theater where the musicians are hidden below the stage in the orchestra pit. They are major players of the show who are never seen. That is not the case with “Rock of Ages.” On many occasions, the guitarists, Zach “AttAkk” Henning and Maddox, left the band’s perch to come front and center on the main stage. It was a nice touch to make you feel even more like you were at an ‘80s concert.
I was so happy I got to see “Rock of Ages” on the stage. It was a vast improvement over the movie and will now be a theater guilty pleasure of mine. Rock on!
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