Theater

Review: Drury Lane's 'Rock of Ages' is an incredible journey with blistering songs

Los Angeles. Mid 1980s. Long hair flowed on heads of both genders on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, and this writer was a witness. There was rock, bombastic, guitar-driven, designed to blow away your ears and melt off your face.

“Rock of Ages,” a humorous take on this era efficiently directed by Scott Weinstein, takes its audience down a journey filled with blistering songs. The musical (music direction by Roberta Duchak) starts with an ensemble medley featuring Quiet Riot’s “Feel the Noize,” rolls into the soft “Sister Christian” and ramps up from there, ending with a rousing ensemble rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Granted, rock aficionados could quibble and say “Feel the Noize” was an early to mid ’70s tune by Slade made into a bigger, more bombastic hit by Quiet Riot in 1983, and “High Enough” by Damn Yankees was really a 1990 tune. Those aficionados can take a leap. This musical isn’t so much about details – hence the funny intro to the musical by Lonny (played with perfect aplomb by Nicholas Druzbanski) – but about a rocking good time.

Pat Benatar. Foreigner. REO Speedwagon. Poison. Styx. Bon Jovi. Whitesnake. These and more all are covered in this 28-song, 2½-hour production. “Rock of Ages” may be long, but the time smoothly rolls by due to incredible dancing and singing skills.

Lonny sets the tone with a hilarious intro as he talks directly to the audience. Drew (Russell Mernagh) and Sherri (Cherry Torres) run the gamut of romantic entanglements trying to discover love, but are blocked by the hilariously ego-driven Stacee Jaxx (the muscular Axl Rose-esque Adam Michaels). Meanwhile, The Bourbon Room (based on the real Whisky A Go Go) – the club “Rock of Ages” centers around – is scheduled for demolition. Club owner and ’60s hold-out Dennis (Gene Weygandt) and everyone else works to save the club from ruthless German developer Hertz (George Keating) and his flamboyant son Franz (Nick Cosgrove). Frankly, between Lonny and Franz I’m not sure which character was more fun to watch.

Choreography? Huge wow. Put together by Stephanie Klemons, the dancing is incredibly athletic and well done by the entire cast and ensemble.

Costuming? Perfect era pieces. There was a wardrobe malfunction (not THAT kind of malfunction) so the first number of act two stumbled a bit, but I’m certain that’s not the norm.

Set design? Pre-show, I questioned the placement of some props, but was proven wrong as everything worked super well. For this venue, the set design fits like fishnet hose on a stripper (which there is plenty – relax, no actual stripping occurs).

As for the venue, I cannot fathom a bad seat in the house at Drury Lane. The sound (sound design by Ray Nardelli) and lighting (lighting design by Greg Hofmann) pushed this rocking good time to another level.

Can’t say enough about the professionalism of this “Rock of Ages” band. They are so tight for a moment I thought they may be going Milli Vanilli on me. Kudos to the work they have put in to become so excellent.

My only beef with it comes via the script. The second act unnecessarily is long due to the amount of time it spends tying up every single plot thread, no matter how thin the string. Leaving the audience to fill in some of the blanks on their own isn’t such a bad idea.

That being said, “Rock of Ages” is a supremely enjoyable time at the theater and totally worth the trip to Oakbrook Terrace. Be prepared to have your face melted.

• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose Certificate of Completion sheet of paper from Second City’s Improv program. Published works include “Crystal Lake: incorporation of a city 1914-2014.”

“ROCK OF AGES”

WHEN: Through Oct. 14

WHERE: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

COST & INFO: Rock back to a time of big egos, big guitar solos, and even bigger hair. Nominated for five Tony Awards, “Rock of Ages” features a mix of 28 classic ’80s hits by Bon Jovi, Journey, Styx and more. It follows aspiring rockstar Drew and his sweetheart, Sherri, as they fight to save Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Recommended for ages 13 and older. Tickets start at $43. Tickets and information: http://drurylanetheatre.com or 630-530-0111.

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