- Barbara Anne Kirshner
Engeman’s ‘Rock of Ages’ hits all the right notes
Pulsating percussion, blazing guitar riffs, vocal gymnastics all set against a gold mine of 80’s hit anthems; that’s intoxicating Rock of Ages now playing at the Engeman Theater in Northport.
This five time Tony Award nominated musical with book by Chris D’Arienzo and arrangements/orchestration by Ethan Popp is an exuberant romp back to the 80’s brimming with defining hits including those of Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison, Styx and Steve Perry. The show premiered on Broadway April 7, 2009, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and later moved to the Helen Hayes Theatre where it closed on January 18, 2015. The 2012 film featured Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta.
The Engeman is professionalism at its very best making for a completely enjoyable evening at the theatre. Attention to detail is key here from its plush stadium style seating to its sophisticated lounge to productions of the highest quality, and with Rock of Ages, the audience is taken on an exhilarating ride.
Director Igor Goldin has assembled an outstanding cast that blasts off right from the start and never quits until the final curtain. Goldin keeps the energy high with clever electric moments including a smoke screen that parts introducing Lonny Barnett (Matt DaSilva), who takes on the role of narrator. He’s a dead ringer for Queen’s Freddie Mercury with handlebar mustache and puffed out chest. DaSilva struts around the stage like he owns it, smashing the fourth wall, connecting to the audience.
Lonny is flamboyant and so much fun as he chronicles the tale of starry-eyed dreamers who hit the Sunset Strip in search of stardom only to find fame is illusive at best. Drew, a wannabe rock star working as a busboy at Dennis Dupree’s club, The Bourbon Room, craves the lead singer spot in rock group, Arsenal, when their front man, Stacee Jaxx, announces he is leaving the band.
A love triangle happens between Drew, Jaxx and Sherrie Christian, who just arrived from the Midwest with aspirations of being an actress. She is innocence personified with her squeaky clean Olivia Newton John looks and blonde flippy hair. Drew, who has fallen instantly, gets her a waitress job at the club. But when he says they are “friends,” she rushes into the arms of Jaxx who later insists Dupree fire her. Dupree reluctantly agrees since he is counting on Jaxx’s final performance with Arsenal to bring in the money he desperately needs to keep his club from demolition.
Dan Hoy delivers so much heart as Drew with eyes that embrace the audience and an incredible voice punctuated by sustained notes. Bailee Endebrock’s performance is compelling and her lilting soprano sails through songs like “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” Nick Bernardi’s Jaxx, dripping with sexuality, grinds his way in “Wanted Dead or Alive” causing the girls to swoon at his feet. Erik Schark as Dupree is a gruff, bigger than life presence, but allows glimmers of feeling to appear like in his comical duet with Lonny on “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
Further conflict ensues when Hertz Flyingmann (Ryan M. Hunt) and his son Franz (Sean Widener), German real estate developers, convince the city’s mayor (Kenneth D. Washington) to rid the Strip of “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” for wholesome developments. He commands, “Bring in the wrecking ball!” and erupts in outstanding vocals on “The Final Count Down” making Hertz a villain you love to hate.
Hertz and his son face direct opposition from Regina (Daria Pilar Redus), the City Planner, but when she wins Franz over, the two burst into a show stopping rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
The ensemble sparkles through each scene with brilliant voices and they seem to defy gravity through Natalie Malotke’s titillatingly effervescent choreography. Of special note is Renee Titus as Justice Charlier, the owner of the Venus Club, a “gentleman’s club,” who hires Sherrie after she’s fired by Dupree. Her belting mezzo soprano in “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” sends shivers.
The five piece band conducted by Jeff Cox is onstage for the entire show igniting each scene with intensity that drives on the plot. Dueling guitars at the close of Act II are spectacular. Laura Shubert’s sound design is well-balanced and dynamic.
Kurt Alger’s costume and wig design is a party of colors and revels in the retro 80’s sequins animal prints, net stockings, thigh high suede boots, tight jeans, plunging necklines and long, lustrous hair, oh, and that’s on the boys.
Kyle Dixon’s scenic design impresses even before the show begins with its giant guitar stage right and a well-placed spiral staircase left used later to create emotional tableaus. Dixon’s choice of industrial elements adds grit with scaffolding outlined in pipes and black palm trees stenciled onto a white brick backdrop. Jose Santiago’s lighting design is kinetic ranging from brilliant to subtle. Of note is a flash of red illuminating actors that adds sensuality in one pivotal scene.
Engeman’s Rock of Ages is a high powered trip into 80’s counterculture that grasps the audience and when it lets go, all you want is a repeat performance.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents Rock of Ages through March 13. Tickets range from $75 to $80 with free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.