The ‘80s Rule At APA’s ‘Rock of Ages’

by Melissa De La Vega

Get ready to rock at a high-energy, killer trip back in time to when big hair was all the rage and the iconic voices of the 1980s rock gods ruled the airwaves.

The show opened last Thursday night at the Academy of Performing Arts Orleans to a full house and is jam-packed with power ballads and glam rock galore from music legends Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovi, Journey, and many more. Written by Chris D'Arienzo, “Rock of Ages” originally opened on Broadway in 2009 and went on to be nominated for five Tony Awards. The show ran for over six years with countless regional productions across the country and also premiered on the big screen with a 2012 movie adaptation starring Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin, among others. Directing the APA production is Sonia Schonning who encouraged the audience to sing along and clued us in that the cast engages with the audience up and down the aisles.

The story is set on the Sunset Strip at the seedy nightclub, the Bourbon Room, on the verge of demolition. “Rock of Ages” follows one small-town girl trying to make it big as an actress in Hollywood in 1987 and a city boy with a big heart and an even bigger voice. They fall in love. When the mayor and greedy real estate developers threaten to demolish the beloved Bourbon Room, a team of rocker friends band together to try to save it.

The jukebox musical features all live music from the on-stage band featuring Luke Camelo on lead guitar, Ben Sloan on bass guitar, Levi Cooper on drums and musical director Rick Schonning on keyboard.

The songs throughout the show were nostalgic and will have you singing along to hits like “Sister Christian,” “I Wanna Rock,” “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “Every Rose has its Thorn,” and the grand finale of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Biker jackets and shredded acid-washed jeans set the ‘80s vibe and the stage design of the Bourbon Room was filled with neon signs, graffiti and a moveable bar, all skillfully built by Mark Roderick, Nick Dorr and Billy Weimer.

The casting at APA has been spot on so far in 2024, and “Rock of Ages” is no exception. Serving as our silly and larger-than-life narrator is Bourbon Room assistant Lonny, played by Randy Doyle, who delightfully “breaks the fourth wall” during the show. In the role of club owner with a big voice and even bigger beard is the captivating local actor and musician Brian Corbett. Max Dexter shines in the leading role of Drew, exemplifying the sweet youthful boy in love who can belt out tunes with a powerhouse force. Sharing the role of leading lady Sherrie are two wildly talented actors: Tala Schonning and Caroline Gerety.

Jennifer Almeida, APA’s veteran educator, director and actor, portrays Justice, the owner of the local gentlemen's club, who takes Sherrie under her wing. In the role of troubled rock god Stacee Jaxx is Beau Jackett, who portrays the flawed rocker with massive humor. One hilarious duo to keep an eye on are the German real estate developers, Hertz and Franz, played by Alex Lucchesi and Frank Scanzillo, who mesh wonderfully with outspoken protester Regina, played by Suzanne Fecteau. Rounding out the phenomenal cast are Jacob Rabold (Mayor), Kaleigh Mason (Waitress #1), Kevin Kenneally (Joey Primo), Lily Bunker (Constance), Colleen Miller (ensemble) and Jace Carpenter (ensemble).

Brace yourself for a silly, wild walk down memory lane with “Rock of Ages,” and get pumped to sing and dance to the beat of an unforgettably nostalgic soundtrack. “Rock of Ages” is one of the most rad nights you’ll have at the theater all summer long.