It’s back to the ‘80s at Hammonton’s Eagle Theatre, for an absolutely hilarious revisiting of the decade of big hair, tacky fashions, and bad-ass music–or just bad, if you’re not of that generation!–in Rock of Ages. More than simply a jukebox musical, the book by Chris D’Arienzo is an over-the-top parody of the period, constructed around live covers of the most popular hits of the time. For those who lived through it, wore the styles, drank the wine coolers, and rocked out to the music, the show is a walk down memory lane; for those who didn’t, it’s an uproarious introduction to the questionable taste of what–as Lonny, the show’s narrator, tells us–was “a sexier time” in America, with a Republican President (Ronald Reagan), mullet hairdos, and sleazy strip joints. At least mullets have since fallen by the wayside.
Directed with full-out “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” gusto by Ed Corsi, Eagle’s laugh-out-loud production, filled with raunchy humor and dirty dancing, is performed by an exuberant cast of fourteen and a kick-ass five-piece band under the musical direction of Jason Neri, with Jeff Ralston and Jack Jesiolowski on guitar, Ryan Macken on bass, Tyler Steinbronn on drums, and Neri on keyboards. For better or worse, the terrific ensemble successfully recreates the style, mood, and sound of “classic rock” of the ‘80s, and keeps us clapping along and rocking, while plants in the front rows of the audience wave their cigarette (or joint) lighters, in traditional rock-concert fashion.
The show’s silly lyrics-inspired storyline follows the misadventures of Sherrie, “a small-town girl,” and Drew, “a city boy” (from, you guessed it, “south Detroit”—courtesy of “Don’t Stop Believin’” by ‘80s rock band Journey), who meet in a club on the Sunset Strip in LA, where they’ve come to pursue their dreams of stardom and romance. A send-up of the usual old boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl cliché, the young couple’s “f’in’ love story” is here waylaid by the egomaniacal rock god Stacee Jaxx, Sherrie’s stint as a stripper, a record producer’s idea to feature Drew in a boy band, and a German developer’s plans to turn the Strip into a strip mall, which draws protests and a rousing rendition of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from the locals, fiercely pumping their fists and jumping up and down.
Eagle’s entire cast brings an unbridled spirit of satire to the roles, with especially sidesplitting performances by Patrick Joyce as Lonny, who strikes outrageously funny poses and makes occasional breaks from the narrative to offer his comic direct-address commentary to the audience; Tim Rinehart as the club’s hippie pothead proprietor Dennis Dupree; Loulu Luzi as the dedicated community activist Regina; and Adam Hoyak as Franz, the prancing and squealing son of the German developer who delivers one of the funniest lines in the show. And Sal Pavia is a standout as the sybaritic Stacee, perfectly embodying the demeanor and devolution of the laughably archetypal rock star while nailing his full-throttle vocals. Jenna Bitow as the strip club’s ‘Mama’ also dazzles with her powerhouse voice every time she takes the stage, and Justin Luciano’s Drew and Leanne Smith’s Sherrie strike a sentimental note with their harmonious heartfelt duet of “High Enough” by Styx.
The performers are supported by a spot-on design, with lights by Chris Miller, sound by David Pierron, set by Peter Smith, and video production by Brian Morris that evoke the times and locale with witty accuracy. Ashleigh Poteat’s trashy period-style costumes and wigs are a howl, and high-energy choreography by the multi-talented Pavia spoofs the risible well-observed moves of both rockers and strippers alike.
If you’re looking for “complex characters and deep thoughts,” a serious message, or a heavy socio-political agenda, you won’t find it here. Eagle’s Rock of Ages is just a lot of loud stupid fun, in a raucously entertaining two hours of nostalgia-filled farce. So “enjoy having your face melted” and rock on!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.