Broadway smash ‘Rock of Ages’ to play the Vilar
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: “Rock of Ages.”
When: Thursday, Jan. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.
Cost: Tickets starting at $88.
“Rock of Ages,” the hit Broadway musical that features songs from rock bands of the 1980s, such as Journey, Styx and Foreigner, is hitting the road again, for a 10th anniversary tour, and making a stop at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.
What can audiences expect?
“They can expect the same terrific music,” said Director Martha Banta, “and the really funny, fun time that you have when you come to the show … This is a new production of it. It’s not a remount of what was already done.”
Set on Sunset Strip in 1987, the musical is a cheeky, self-referential fable of Hollywood and rock’n’roll wannabes. Written by Christopher D’Arienzo, a self-professed theater geek, who also loves ‘80s rock, he says as he wrote it, “it was very much like an olive branch between worlds that don’t feel like they have anything in common; the rock world and the Broadway world. And so, I decided what I wanted it to be was just as much a love letter to theater, as it is music and rock.”
So, even as audiences hear familiar songs, like “Any Way You Want It,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” D’Arienzo said there are theatrical references.
“I was influenced by Shakespeare — things such as ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and musicals, like ‘Into the Woods,’” D’Arienzo said. “That was a really big influence on the structure of ‘Rock of Ages,’ in terms of the woods and the Sunset Strip being this place where dreams are fulfilled and they’re not what they seem.”
A true smash hit
The show had a winding road to Broadway. First staged in a club on Hollywood Boulevard, as kind of a glorified backer’s audition in 2005, the show made its way to different venues in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“The trajectory of the show was constantly stop-start-stop,” D’Arienzo said. “Every time we did it, it felt like maybe it was the last time we would do it.”
It opened off-Broadway in January of 2009, and two months later was on Broadway, where it would remain for six years, running 2,328 performances.
D’Arienzo created the character of Lonny, the show’s narrator, for the original backer’s audition, when the show was only half-finished, and played it himself.
“We found we really liked that character who guides you through the experience,” D’Arienzo said, so they kept it.
At one point, Lonny proclaims: “I conjured all this. “So, director Martha Banta has decided to make him more of a stage presence in the tour.
“You see him a lot,” Banta said. “He’s onstage pulling the strings, making things happen. He’s really quite like a Puck kind of character.”
Set designer David Gallo’s set will be conjuring quite a bit as well.
“The overall concept of the set is that it’s a rock’n’roll tour,” Banta said. “So, you’ve got the road boxes and it looks just like a blank stage.”
But, Banta said the set — like the musical itself — is filled with surprises.
“Things drop in and the boxes open up and there’s a whole scene in there. A briefcase opens up and something else is inside that,” Banta said, “and you roll out something and now you’re somewhere else.”
While the musical has many characters —from greedy German real estate developers to a comically burned-out rock legend named Stacee Jaxx — the central story is about two dreamers: Sherrie, a young woman from Kansas, who wants to be a movie star, and Drew, a young man from Michigan, who wants to be a rock star. And, of course, the road to their dreams, as well as their love, turns out to be quite “rocky.”
D’Arienzo said he took his cue in developing these characters from some of the songs he wanted to use.
“When you think of the way Bon Jovi or Journey or any of these bands sing about young people, it’s kind of like dopey kids at the Tastee Freez,” D’Arienzo said. “Tommy used to work on the dock,’ you know, whether it’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ or [‘Don’t Stop Believin’’], They’re kind of working-class heroes and so that just felt appropriate.”
Banta says one of the challenges of directing the show is to find a balance between the outrageous comedy and the characters’ sincerity.
Finding the formula
“You don’t want it to all be so flippant and funny, that you don’t care about them, right?” Banta said. “But, if you care about them so much, then how can you make a joke about them?”
Still, perhaps the greatest draw of the show is the re-creation of some of the biggest musical hits of the 1980s. The show’s band will be visible throughout the production, at times moving downstage to be the centerpiece of the action.
Banta said part of the success of “Rock of Ages” is that writer D’Arienzo had a huge catalog of songs to draw from.
“He wasn’t stuck to just the Beach Boys or just ABBA,” Banta said. “He could kind of go wide and far. But I do know that he actually started with a whole bunch of music and then made the story.”
As for D’Arienzo, he calls “Rock of Ages” is a “tremendous gift.”
In addition to its six-year Broadway run, the show has been seen across the country and across the world, and was even turned into a Hollywood film, starring Tom Cruise.
“It’s awesome the tour’s going out and that’s so cool,” D’Arienzo said. “Any time there’s a production of ‘Rock of Ages,’ part of me is kind of blown away; like, wow, they still want to do this? That’s amazing. And it makes me so happy and I’m so grateful.”
“Rock of Ages” will play at the Vilar on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, starting at $88, are available for purchase at http://www.vilarpac.org.