Rock of Ages - Garden Theatre

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Posted 2023-03-01 by Gail Clifford MDfollow

Hey Rock n' Roll fan! It's time for Rock of Ages, based on the Book by Chris D'Arienzo with Arrangements and Orchestrations by Ethan Pope. Located in Winter Garden, Florida at the Winter Garden Theatre, you'll hear some of your favorite 1980s American Rock music, a whole lot of White Snake, with the hairdos, outfits, and choreography that is ultimately the '80s.

This story, based in Los Angeles, starts some 3300-odd... waffle houses away from Kansas, where our heroine (note the "e"), leaves her family in search of fame and fortune as an actress.

After being mugged (made me think it was going to be NYC - not LA), she's rescued by a boy dreaming to be a rock star. It's their love story that carries the show because rock, of course, while strobe light loud, dirty, dangerous, and raw, is at its essence, love.

I'm so grateful for the Playbill for this musical as the story is easy to follow, the music delicious and the cast clear when they're ready for us to join in. The invitation to participate in the chorus had many people singing (I could even hear them through the earplugs I'd thought to bring) along ... not Rocky Horror status yet but who knows? It could happen.

Everything happens in this show for our couple. Love, fear of rejection, backing up from a possible relationship to the friend zone, then poor decision-making as the girl becomes just another groupie for the rock star of the show who's full of vim and vigor and all the booze and drugs and women he can get... he entices the girl and wins her, despoiling her, then having her fired, making her unfit to work anywhere in that era but Mama's Strip Club ... which she does rather than return to her home in Kansas where her parents just don't understand her needs or talents. Trust me, girls, it is always better to go home again.

The narrator has the great job of making fun of himself and the other characters as he explains things periodically, from the definition of a first-act break and a number that rivals the finale to the role-bending nature of his manhood with his sexuality, his relationship with another member of the ensemble, and breaking the fourth wall with the boy who didn't get it right the first time.

Fear not, the couple will end well, as things must in the happy world of rock memories, as old rivalries are played out, causes held dear, athleticism amongst the dancers and an outstanding display on silks, match the vocal and acoustical talents of this brilliant cast.

I knew I recognized the name "Bo Bice," but had not remembered that he was the American Idol runner-up to Carrie Underwood in 2005. He plays the bar owner along the Sunset Strip which acts as home to our cast.

Omar Cardona, who plays our boy Drew, a finalist on The Voice Season 22, has the biggest voice on stage, rivaling Lonnie, played by Tony LePage who has been with Rock of Ages since 2011 and is the only person in history to play all eight male characters in the show. They're talented young men.

Diana Huey, the actress who plays our girl Sherrie in repeat performances following runs at The 5th Street Theater and TUTS, previously played Kim in Miss Saigon and Ariel in Disney's national tour of The Little Mermaid. Her character may make the most costume changes or adjustments and must do all the things women were forced to do in the 1980s. They certainly don't sugarcoat the sexual harassment and abuse women suffered.

I was surprised that, though herpes was mentioned once, this play was set in 1986, yet AIDS wasn't mentioned. That was prime time when HIV and AIDS were finally named but unable to be treated or cured.

Militia Vox, who plays Mother of the strip house, in real life is the frontwoman of Judas Priestess. With sincere compliments to both women, from my seat's vantage point, she looked like Jennifer Hudson. She does a masterful job moving effortlessly from angry mother to soulful Justice, the girl she was before she became hardened by reality.

The other story is woven through to make sense of the rock music we're there to hear is the destruction of the beloved bar in favor of gentrification and urban renewal, thanks to a corrupt politician. A German father-son team from Hamburg helps run the bar out of business, only to have the son experience a change of heart with encouragement from the Los Angeles city planner, Regina, who's willing to throw herself off the bridge, if necessary, to speak to her cause.

Regina, played by Christine Dwyer of Broadway's Wicked fame (Elphabah), not only has the joy of great music but she's also got the timing of a great comedienne. After a fall off the bridge, she makes a valiant effort to follow the others up a few stairs to a door that has been shut firmly in her face.

How utterly typical of 1986. The men go thru the door and shut the woman out. Not to worry, as with all strong women, she finds a workaround.

It's not easy, simple, carefree, or anything but messy, but all of it works. The strobe light can be quite intrusive with the bright lights searing your eyelids to greet your eyeballs, and the sound pretty perfect with the added protection of gently folded wax in ear canals, but it was a great night of singing (even wordlessly) along with music that I do remember from my early teens with a surprising assortment of others from ages 10 to 80s with most people in the range that would've remembered this era .. probably now in their 60s and 70s.

The Winter Garden Theatre is an intimate one, small but mighty. With, perhaps 16 seats across and about 25 rows, I didn't see an empty seat in the house. There's even a spot in the back for easy wheelchair use and a companion chair that was in use tonight.

If you have the chance to see Rock of Ages, wherever you are in the world, do it. You'll hear the rock anthems that plagued our souls and carried our stories through that tumultuous decade when social issues and medical diseases collided to become one of the most talked about times.

And the high hair never hurt anyone ... much.

Special thanks to the Winter Garden Theatre for hosting me through the Visit Orlando VIP Media Passport program. All opinions are my own.

Oh, and did I mention the bar in the middle of the stage? They use it as an active, open bar before performance and during intermission. Brilliant!

93917 - 2023-06-12 01:05:20


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