By JEAN LOWERISON | Uptown News
What is it with big money and muddle-headed morality, that so often want to mess things up for kids who just want to rock out and have fun?
Don’t spend a lot of time pondering this. I’m just setting up the plot for Cygnet Theatre’s latest offering, the jukebox musical “Rock of Ages,” playing through Aug. 25. Cygnet’s artistic director Sean Murray is at the helm.
Cast your mind back to the 1980s in Los Angeles, when kids were rocking to bands like Whitesnake, Styx, Twisted Sister and the like, and be prepared for loud music from singers and Patrick Marion’s fine five-man band alike. I mention “loud” because the theater will provide earplugs to all who request them.
Here’s the setup: The Sunset Strip has (among other things) a popular bar called the Bourbon Room and a strip joint called the Venus Club. The area is loud and more than a bit seedy, so along comes German developer Hertz (John Rosen), who decides the Strip needs cleaning up. Hertz drags his son Franz (Zackary Scot Wolfe) along for the… what, experience?
It only takes a suitcase full of money to convince the city council to let them tear down the Bourbon Room and build something more, you know, decent in its place.
The lone political dissenter is city planner Regina (Emma Nossal), who gets together with denizens of both clubs to loudly oppose the plan. Chief among them are Dennis (Berto Fernandez), owner of the Bourbon Room, and Venus Club owner Justice (Anise Ritchie), but employees and customers get in on the protesting as well.
The story is narrated by Lonny (Victor E. Chan), who keeps the story straight and the traffic flowing. After Lonny has set the politics up for us, he realizes something is missing: the love story.
Enter Sherrie (Megan Carmitchel), cute as a button. A Kansas girl from a good Christian background, she scandalized her parents by leaving for California’s Sin City to follow her dream. She’ll meet wannabe rock star Drew (down-to-earth Rory Gilbert), currently a busboy at the Bourbon.
When it looks like Hertz has won and the Bourbon Room will be razed, Dennis figures he can go out with a bang by hiring real rock star Stacee Jaxx (an amusingly preening Bryan Banville) to do the final show. When Staycee meets Sherrie, it’s Katy, bar the door.
Romance also blooms elsewhere before the final curtain.
The plot is good enough and some of the lines are clever, but you’re probably in the audience for another reason: this is an ’80s throwback concert and you want to hear those songs. That you will: this show has more than 30 of ’em. Since this is not my decade and not my music, I’ll spare you my dyspeptic musical criticism.
Suffice it to say that the show runs more than two hours, has lots of energy and tons of songs, a fine band and a talented cast to bring the show to life. Murray has found the right group for the show.
Kudos also to Sean Fanning’s colorful set, which along with Blake McCarty’s projections, Amanda Zieve’s lighting and TJ Fucella’s sound design make this show work visually as well as acoustically. And Katie Banville contributes some spirited, sometimes raunchy choreography.
If the sounds of the ’80s are your thing, Cygnet’s the place to be.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.