A musical can act as a snapshot of an era. Some center around the political and social movements of the time — Hair captures the turbulent period of the Vietnam War, and Rent explores ’90s America, post-Cold War and newly introduced to the AIDS epidemic. Others serve as sweet reminders of simpler times — see: Rock of Ages.
Now playing at BDT Stage through Nov. 11, Rock of Ages takes us back to the rockin’ 1980s, with its bitchin’ songs and, like, righteous story of following your heart. This year BDT Stage is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and Rock of Ages marks the company’s 150th production.
The show tells the story of a group of rock ‘n’ roll dreamers on Sunset Strip, taking place somewhere in the mid to late ’80s, or, as the narrator Lonny suggests, “… a sexier time — the Reagan era.”
Specifically, the show follows two young artists who both long for stardom — wannabe actress Sherrie and rock ‘n’ roll-god-hopeful Drew, better known by his stage name, “Wolfgang Von Colt.” Drew and Sherrie both work at The Bourbon Room, a rock club run by Dennis Dupree and his assistant Lonny. But as German developers come in to try to “clean up” (aka sanitize) the area, rock lovers from around the city fight to save their beloved club.
The show features the music of Journey, Bon Jovi, Styx, Pat Benatar, Poison, Joan Jett, Twisted Sister, Europe and more. It reminds you of a time in music history when the radio dial was jam-packed with songs full of heart… and with songs by Heart. It’s a show full of songs that remind you they don’t make ’em like this anymore. But instead of being a mixtape full of classics, Rock of Ages strings together a list of hits to tell a story.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the ’80s. You can’t choose the decade you’re born into, but you can choose the decade you fall in love with. As a ’90s baby, I always lusted for the previous decade. Maybe it was upon my first viewing of a John Hughes movie or my first attempt at a Rubik’s cube, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve always preferred the totally rad, neon-colored world of the 1980s. Rock of Ages serves as that warm dose of nostalgia, whether you’re just a fan girl of the decade or were lucky enough to live it firsthand.
The show is a great example of a jukebox musical, a show that utilizes previously released songs as its score, à la Mamma Mia or Jersey Boys. Rock of Ages creates something new with familiar puzzle pieces. The show avoids feeling like a greatest hits concert by using the songs in unexpected ways. The songs aren’t frivolous choices, but are frequently used satirically and as winks to the audience.
The show’s strength is in its humor. This means amping up the cheese factor on purpose: excessive use of the fog machine and poking fun at ’80s tropes. Rock of Ages doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is for the best. The show’s self-aware nature lets the audience know that it’s in on the joke, allowing for a night of light-hearted fun.
The cast of BDT stage always delivers a performance full of energy, and Rock of Ages is no different. Everyone feels like they’re having fun — and it’s easy to have fun when you’re belting out karaoke staples.
The highlight of the show are leads Tim Howard (Drew) and Olyvia Sydelle (Sherrie). Howard delivers his performance with the same charm and talent as any legendary rock hero, sporting a beautiful head of long wavy locks, which I pray to the rock gods is actually real. Sydelle is a delight to watch, infusing her character with spunk, agency and a beautiful voice to boot.
They’re supported by a motley crew of characters, like feisty activist Regina (Valerie Igoe), bluesy, cool Justice Charlier (Joanie Brosseau-Rubald) and lovably quirky German developer Franz Klinemann (Brian Cronan). Along with club owner Dennis (Scott Beyette), narrator Lonny (Barret Harper) and rocker Stacee Jaxx (Scott Severtson), these characters function as the backbone of the show, rather than just throwaway background elements.
The technical aspects of the show add to the delight, featuring fondly remembered ’80s memorabilia and a costume lineup full of leotards, bustiers, leather, lace and tulle. There are also some interesting lighting choices. At times, larger-than-life shadows are projected on the walls, making the medium-sized theater feel like an arena.
Rock of Ages is a versatile crowd pleaser. It sits in that sweet spot of the stage: appealing to theater lovers and mass audiences. There’s more than enough fun to go around for everyone.
But there is a price to pay when you see Rock of Ages. Any patron attending the show should be forewarned: Prepare to spend the next few weeks singing ’80s tunes to the annoyance of yourself and everyone around you.
On the Bill: Rock of Ages. BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. Through Nov. 11.