By Jeff Ritter
“Rock of Ages” is being staged in the Southampton Presbyterian Church’s social hall in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood. Several national tours of the Broadway hit stopped at the Fox Theatre in recent years. Would it work as well in such a confined space?
Surprisingly, it works very well moving The Bourbon Room to a more intimate stage in the cozy basement.
This jukebox musical, set in 1987 Los Angeles, specifically a club on the Sunset Strip, made it to Broadway in 2009, earning five Tony nominations, including Best Musical and Leading Actor (Constantine Maroulis).
Hit songs from such classic rock groups as Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Poison, Styx, Twisted Sister and Whitesnake are featured in the score, with arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp.
It closed in 2015 after 2,328 regular performances, and now available for community theatre presentations, with Take Two Productions being first in St. Louis. Gary Long directs and Nicolas Valdez is the music director, and also plays keyboards.
The cast includes many performers making their Take Two debut
Jacob Bizaillion is quite likeable is Drew, the lovesick future rock god. Leah Loren Koclanes shines as Sherrie, the naive small-town girl who aspires to be an actress but ends up waiting tables at the Bourbon Room.
That is, until the despicable reigning metal messiah Stacee Jaxx — portrayed perfectly by Gage Seitz — costs her not only her relationship with Drew but also her job. Having no other options, Sherrie ends up as a stripper at the Velvet Room men’s club, under the watchful eye of Mama Justice, played by soulful Karen Fulks.
Meanwhile, German developer Hertz and his effeminate son Franz (Robert Annis and Matthew Hansen, respectively) are manipulating City Hall to take over the block, which includes the legendary The Bourbon Room.
Kyle Kelesoma is as fine a Dennis Dupree, the club owner, as you’ll see anywhere, though at times his naturally soft voice gets drowned out by the hard-rocking house band. His friend and sound guy, and the show’s semi-omnipotent narrator Lonny, is played by Jordan Dennis, who brings his own kind of sleazy vibe to the production without mimicking the Jack Black stylings of the big tour Lonnys.
The Germans are chiefly opposed by the local protester par excellence, Regina, played wonderfully by Elise Brubaker.
The ensemble features Sara Rae Womack as Waitress #1/Sapphire and Jazzy Danziger as rock reporter Constance with Melinda Call, Tim Kaniecki, Yianni Perahoritis, Jack Ryan Petee, Maggie Nold and Kim Smith portraying bar maids, rock star wannabes, strippers and protesters, depending on the scene.
The group executes Jenn Koehn and her niece Mackenzie Koehne’s strong choreography with maximum energy.
Everyone looks period-appropriate, thanks to Colene and Evan Fornachon’s Broadway- accurate costume designs.
Bizaillion, Koclanes, Seitz and Fulks are a treat to watch and hear. Bizaillion hits the “hard rock holler” well, though on a couple of songs he sounds more like a musical performer than a metal head.
Matthew Hansen, however, steals the show as Franz, whose dream is to sell chocolates, not the corporate world. He seems more pliable than Elastigirl from “The Incredibles.” Every movement he makes is dynamic and engrossing. He looks like he was born wearing dance shoes, but when asked after the show, this young student at Lindenwood University has remarkably only been training for about a year.
His physical gifts far surpassed any disappointment the spirited audience may have had missing a few lines of his dialogue due to a faulty microphone. Keep an eye out for Mr. Hansen, St. Louis!
Besides Valdez, the band, which performs on stage, includes Jim Wells and Spencer Wells both on guitar, Tom O’Connor on bass and Christopher Brown on drums.
A functioning bar is set up in the back of the house, with volunteers acting as part of The Bourbon Room staff.
The wild party takes place from June 29 to July 7. A portion of the ticket sales will benefit Kids Rock Cancer, a program at Maryville University. For more, visit www.taketwoproductions.org for more information.
Photos by Gerry Love