“Rock of Ages” celebrates rock and power ballads surrounding a wafer-thin plot set in the 1980s Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Its recurring wave of hit songs make it a jukebox musical, recreating a soundtrack of a bygone era, but there’s a budding love story amid a tangle of dreams, competition and humanity.
In its Hawaii premiere at the Manoa Valley Theatre, “Rock” has become an instant hit, extended through April 8 because of brisk sellouts.
‘ROCK OF AGES’
A jukebox musical, about denizens of a rock club facing demolition, set in the 1980s Sunset Strip in Los Angeles
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, extended through April 8; additional 3 p.m. show April 8; most performances already sold out
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
Tickets: $40 general, $35 seniors and military, $22 youths 25 and younger; 988-6131, www.manoavalleytheatre.com
Advisory: Contains some expletives, adult themes, but suitable for 16 and older
The plot pits two sides — the rockers vs. developers — in a club called the Bourbon, threatened for the wrecking ball by a German developer aiming to build a strip mall.
Drew Boley (Joshua Haili-Silva, who looks the part), is a wanna-be star seeking rock fame, but works as a cleaner-upper at the club. He meets Sherrie Christian (Michelle Busekrus), who is a naively desperate Kansas girl yearning to be a Hollywood actress) but winds up waitressing at the club after her purse is stolen.
Of course, they fall in (and out) love, fairy-tale style, with a stoned Stacee Jaxx (Kenny Kusaka), the leader of a fading band called Arsenal, making it a triangle as he makes a play for Sherrie.
Lonny Barnett (Jesie Rocetes), the narrator and club manager, navigates the roller-coaster chaos at the club, breaking “the fourth wall” of the theater by commiserating with the audience.
Other principals include Justice Charlier (Alika Schick), who owns what she prefers to call a gentlemen’s club, is spot-on in her oversight of her “girls,” and Dennis Dupree (Garrett Hols), is the congenial nightspot owner.
Themes evolve: respect, understanding, alienation, guidance, acceptance, cooperation and compassion.
This endeavor, by Chris D’Arienzo, boasts a rich catalogue of ‘80s music by rock and glam acts of the era — Journey, Bon Jovi, Styx, White Snake, Twisted Sister, Pat Benetar, Steve Perry, Guns N’ Roses, Joan Jett, REO Speedwagon, Poison, and more. Six musicians, conducted by Keith Griffin, perform with gusto and grit, presumably in the vein of a Sunset Strip house band.
The tunes often connect with the characters, giving credence to their inclusion. The hits include “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Heat of the Moment,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Any Way You Want It,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Oh Sherrie,” “We Built This City,” “We’re Not Going To Take It.”
Director Hannah Schauer Galli navigates her cast with efficiency though some exits yields some awkward blank moments.
On a negative note, the sound is murky and often affects projection, at a Saturday performance; the wavering lighting created moments of unintended darkness.
The two-tier set, including a mobile staircase, anchors the band and the club on the lower level, with a top walkway enabling characters to perform, enter and exit.
Outside the theater, there’s a selfie station with a frame, a faux guitar, a couple of costumes and props for photo-taking. Inside, wine coolers are sold prior to curtain and during intermission.
This recalls the Broadway original motif, promoting the party spirit; drinks were hawked in the theater, battery-run lighters (fake Bics) were handed out for group waving, and many dressed in tie-dye tees and headbands of the times. So 1980s.
Admittedly, “Rock” was the least favorite of the shows I saw in 2009 on Broadway (“Billy Elliot,” “West Side Story,” “Hair,” a three-part “The Norman Conquests,” “Next to Normal,” “God of Carnage” were hits) but it was clearly an audience fave. Same here.
Trivia: On Broadway, Constantine Maroulis an (American Idol” finalist who earned a Tony nomination) created the Drew character; a 2012 movie featured Tom Cruise as Jaxx.