Full-Throttle Camp in “Rock of Ages”

On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of seeing Pittsburgh CLO’s opening night performance of Rock of Ages. A campy, jukebox musical featuring hit 1980s rock`n`roll anthems from artists such as Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Joan Jett, Steve Perry, and Twisted Sister (just to name a few). The show feels less like a musical and more like a concert, one that encourages audiences to get on their feet and join in the rockin’ good time.

It’s hard to criticize this show because it’s so self-aware and completely understands how ridiculous and over-the-top it is. With that being said, the plot is a fairly generic one, and not one of the strong suits of the show. It’s clear form the get-go the music is the core of the show, and in retrospect is probably the best part.

Rock of Ages centers around Sherrie and Drew, both who are newcomers to L.A. hoping to make it big in the entertainment industry. They work at The Bourbon Room, a bar and music venue that is in jeopardy of being taken down along with the rest of the Sunset Strip in order to make way for “clean living.” To save The Bourbon Room, rock star Stacee Jaxx is invited to play to help save the venue, and his arrival causes the main characters lives to be turned upside down.

What’s different in this show from most is that the band (a five-piece rock band) is located center stage. The lead guitarist, Dan Peters, won the audience over the second he walked out on stage. His solos showcase his raw talent and skill for the instrument. I think the band brought a lot of energy to the show that otherwise wouldn’t have been there had they been hidden in the pit.

The set design for this show is incredible. Designed by Beowulf Boritt, it has a sleazy, back alley kind of feeling to it, while also feeling like a familiar and favorite local hangout. It definitely makes you think of the many dive bars and venues musicians have performed in on their way to the top. The costumes for the show reminded me of ones you’d see in 80’s music videos, which totally works for this particular show. Costume designers Greogry Gale (original costume designer) and Gail Baldoni did a great job bringing 80’s video girls and rock star gods to life on stage.

The cast of Rock of Ages is electric. From the first number you can feel the energy and know you’re in for a good time. I’m always skeptical going into jukebox musicals because the material is out-of-genre for traditional musical theater performers, but surprisingly there were many actors who were perfectly cast for this show. Former American Idol alum Ace Young plays debauched rock star, Stacee Jaxx. Young goes all the way with his performance, and you can tell he has a lot of fun playing this part. Drew is played by Justin Matthew Sargent, who is vocally a great fit for the role. A few times throughout the show you truly get to see his strong vocal abilities and it seemed to impress everyone watching. Nathan Salstone was such a delight to watch as Franz Klinemann. He was so quirky and weird you couldn’t help but laugh anytime he was on stage. By far the highlight of the show was Nick Druzbanski, who plays Lonny. Funny and charismatic, he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. I heard a few people comment that he reminded them of John Belushi, and I have to agree. He has a ton of energy and brings a lot of physical comedy to the part, which just made him a joy to watch on stage.

Besides the show not having the most original plot, the only other downside was some obvious issues with audio. I’m sure they were still working through the kinks being opening night, but it could be a bit distracting at times. The first act the music was drowning out the actors where you could barely here them, but by the second act that issue seemed to be fixed. There were a few actors, Sargent specifically, whose microphone audio faded in and out constantly. I think some of the jokes and comical moments of the show were lost because of this. It’s easy to forgive being the opening night, however, and I’m sure it’s an issue that’s been fixed since then.

Rock of Ages is very obnoxious and an in-your-face kind of show, and it is very very aware of this. It’s not your typical theater outing, and it might even turn off some theater purists. It’s a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. I’m always unsure of jukebox musicals, but I have to say it was nothin’ but a good time (see what I did there?). If you’re up for a highly unapologetically fun show, I would definitely recommend checking out CLO’s production of Rock of Ages.


Rock of Ages plays at the Benedum Center through July 28. Ticket information can be found on their site. 

Jade Goodes is a graduate of Penn State University where she received her degree in English. While attending Penn State she became the Managing Editor for the school’s literary & arts magazine, Absence. Jade has been involved with the Pittsburgh theater community since elementary school, and has performed in many productions over the years. In her free time she enjoys reading and attending all the concerts she can.

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