Rock Of Ages at Milburn Stone Theatre

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Come on, feel the noise! Milburn Stone Theatre Is taking you back to a sexier time where the hair was big, the chicks were hot, and the music was ROCK-AND-ROLL! They’re getting, wild, Wild, WILD with their current production of Rock Of Ages, an edgy jukebox musical that captures the essence of 80’s rock all in one electrifying evening of classic numbers, theatrical nonsense, and wailing guitars that will make your face melt! Directed by Shane Jensen, MST is inviting you to ROCK hard for the night with their wild performers. Are you ready to get down with the iconic music of the 80’s that defined the Sunset Strip?

Step back into that sexier era of the 80’s; every iconic aesthetic that you remember will be there helping you fondly recall the high-octane experience of that golden era of music, fashion, and living on the edge of a prayer. Director Shane Jensen has pulled together the cream of the crop in his design team to fully capture the reverberating core of 80’s rock life in all facets of the production. Scenic Designer Bob Denton turns the stage into a gritty rock club called The Bourbon Room, centralizing the live rock band on the stage and flanking the bar, cigarette machine, and jukebox to accent them sublimely. With the MST signature approach to fully submerging the audience in the aesthetic, Denton and Jensen take the look and feel of The Bourbon Room out into the house with dozens of old rock posters plastered all over the under-hang of the box seats. Denton even makes a little saucy stage magic happen for The Venus, a gentleman’s club which appears in act two.

Drew (center- Brandon Zebley) and the Ensemble Girls of Rock Of Ages
Drew (center- Brandon Zebley) and the Ensemble Girls of Rock Of Ages Scott Serio

Tag-teaming their design efforts to play off one another and complement one another, Costume Designer Lindsay Ellis and Wig Designer Ryan DeVoe put the 80’s rocker fashion line on proud parade. With teased locks that are bottle-blonde and crimped to perfection, DeVoe’s wig work is on point, creating both an accurate and authentic representation of the ‘big hair’ styles that defined the decade in rock-n-roll music fashion. Ellis is right behind him with her sartorial selection for the cast, giving the outrageous flare required of the dancer girls and rockstars of that decade in every stitch of her approach. Fishnets, lots of black, glamourous makeup plots and wild shoes are all just little pieces of Ellis’ masterful approach, honing in on signature styles for each character in a way that reflects that character’s personality.

Tying the 80’s look all together, Lighting Designer William A. Price III goes buck wild with the illuminating devices creating that ultimate rock concert experience. Putting his seasoned skills to the test, and using classic staging tactics like full-force strobe lighting to create a slow-motion effect for the bar-brawl scene, Price infuses each of the musical numbers with emotionally charged lighting tactics. The use of swirling gobos, in particular the elliptical rings happening later in the production, is a pleasing bonus that really reminds the audience of the wild and audacious nature of a rock concert, adding a level of energy to the performances that carry the overall production to a higher caliber.

Director Shane Jensen, who serves as the show’s Musical Director, gets good sound out of all the performers, whether they’re singing or speaking. There are a few moments of scenic transition that feel sluggish, mostly when a song finishes and a dialogue exchange begins (and vice versa) but with a few more runs under their belts, the lag should fizzle away into the crackle of music that drives the show. The other questionable choice that Jensen throws into play is the lack of amplification in the overall volume of both the live rock band on stage and the level at which the performers are mic’d. Sound Engineer Edward Vanlandghem needs to step up to the challenge of properly amplifying these amped up performers— both those in the band and those singing in the show— in order for the show to achieve its maximum rocker potential of face-melting glory.

The cast of Rock Of Ages at Milburn Stone Theatre
The cast of Rock Of Ages at Milburn Stone Theatre Amanda N. Gunther

Leading the band— called Twisted Snake Poison and/or Extreme Starship— J. Andrew Dickenson charges the pit that electric pulse required of all edgy rock bands. Taking to the guitar, alongside Anthony Derrico, Dickenson revs up the band to rock and roll all night long. John Craven on Synth, Jon Luther on Drums, and Seth Tillman on Bass put some serious rocker soul into the sound they create and keep the singers on track through all of the iconic and infamous tunes featured in the production. Shout out to Joey Primo (Campbell Kistner) who blends in with the band once his characters arrives, feeling as if he belongs among the musicians strategically placed center stage.

The only thing edgier than the show’s aesthetic is the show’s dance routines, stomped into place by Choreographer Leslie Perry. Keeping the stripper gals active every time they appear on stage with dance routines that echo the sentiment of the era, Perry’s Choreography suits the tone and approach to the show’s overall feeling. When choreographing larger number, Perry keeps the moves simple yet effective, fueled by ambition, determination, and the general feel of 1980’s rocker spirit. This is particularly true of “We’re Not Going to Take It” and the epic full-company dance finale featured during “Don’t Stop Believing”, the show’s final musical number.

Voices of fierce rocker edge and strong tonal talent populate the ensemble, making the warhorse chestnuts ring through with fierce pride. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Don’t Stop Believing”— among others— become the pillars of musical strength that balance the show thanks to the committed intensity delivered with great consistency by the ensemble. At this performance, Nick Madden pops into the tri-cast role of Mayor/Paul Gill/Father and adds a glorious sound to the solos featured therein, including “Sister Christian”, which features Mother (Laura Wills.) But Wills’ true moment in the limelight is not this number but her role in the second act of the show as Justice. Wailing away with vocally astonishing sounds for “Any Way You Want It/I Wanna Rock” and adding a woefully soulful flavor to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, Wills’ bold personality and tenacious vocals are perfect for the character, who runs The Venus.

Codey Odachowski (left) as Franz and Laura Moss (right) as Regina in Rock Of Ages
Codey Odachowski (left) as Franz and Laura Moss (right) as Regina in Rock Of Ages Scott Serio

Stealing the show with their breakout routine during “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, both Franz (Codey Odachowski) and Regina (Laura Moss) hit the audience with their best shot and indeed fire away! Odachowski, who plays the character with such a fluffy flamboyance that he nearly flits away into the fly tower, is a comedic hoot coupled with vocal resilience, especially when it comes to lending his pristine sounding instrument to the aforementioned number. Moss, who is a powerhouse belter, as she proves every time she takes to singing a rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”— leading anyone who will listen into the fiery rebellious overtone of that song— is a perfect match to Odachowski and the pair play exceptionally well together. A nod of approval should also be thrown to Matt Tart, playing Hertz Klinemann, Franz’ father, for both his great vocal consistency with his accent— in and out of singing voice— and his overall pitch and resonance, featured during “Keep On Loving You.”  

Stacee Jacxx (center- Art Bookout) and the ensemble of Rock Of Ages
Stacee Jacxx (center- Art Bookout) and the ensemble of Rock Of Ages Scott Serio

Singing may not be Dennis Dupree’s (Tom Hartzell) strong suit, but the characterization that Hartzell brings to Dennis is right on with the seedy sort of man that would own The Bourbon Room. With a growling rasp to his vocalization, Hartzell connects with the character on a deeply dynamic level that really expresses the essence of rock club owners from the Sunset Strip. Doing an equally impressive job connecting with the authenticity of the caricature of his character, Art Bookout as rocker icon Stacee Jaxx is the epitome of that burned out cowboy rock star. Nailing “Wanted Dead or Alive” with vocal superiority and fully embodying the arrogance of such a character, Bookout brings Stacee Jaxx to life in that electrified oversexed, overboozed fashion that is simply a scream.

Darby McLaughlin as Waitress #1 in Rock Of Ages
Darby McLaughlin as Waitress #1 in Rock Of Ages Amanda N. Gunther

Stealing the thunder of the show, Darby McLaughlin as “Waitress #1” comes into her own as a rock-belting femme fatale. During the “More Than Words/To Be With You/Heaven” medley, McLaughlin comes into her own with powerful vocal solos that makes her character pop straight off the stage. Fully in charge of the immersive intermission experience, where in her saucy and sassy character she invites members of the audience down to dance on the floor with her, McLaughlin is every boisterously blazing female rocker of the 80’s we all know and love to remember.

It’s not a Broadway musical without a love story, naturally, and Rock Of Ages in its pithy parody of itself did not miss the boat with the characters of Drew (Brandon Zebley) and Sherrie (Gina Dzielak.) The pair is just wild about one another and really nails the chemistry of the couple right from the onset. Though Dzielak has some vocal inconsistencies and minor struggles with pitch, her vocal support is tenacious and full of emotional connections, particularly when it comes to “Harden My Heart/Shadows of the Night.” Keeping the character honest and pure, even in the more difficult shifts that she encounters in the second act, Dzielak brings a congeniality to Sherrie that makes the audience empathize with her. Her duet, “High Enough”, with Zebley, is one of the finest moments she puts forth in the production.

Brandon Zebley (center) as Drew and the ensemble of Rock Of Ages
Brandon Zebley (center) as Drew and the ensemble of Rock Of Ages Scott Serio

Zebley, who fully embraces the lower-rung rocker nature of Drew, is a complete diamond in the rough as one would hope such a character performance would be. With exceptionally clear vocals and a crystalline resonant sound, “Waiting for a Girl Like You”, “I Want to Know What Love Is”, and “Oh Sherrie” are just a few of the magnificent moments where Zebley shines throughout the performance. Everything about his portrayal is on point with the character and delivered with steady consistency. Taking the character on a strikingly impressive journey, the audience is ready and willing to follow Zebley’s transformation from the show’s beginning through to its heady ending.

Narrative conjurer, theatrical flimflammer, and all-round nutbag Lonny (Ryan Devoe) is what holds the show together like the two tons of hairspray and gel holding the all of the wigs in the show upright. DeVoe is a classic comic cad, having full freedom when it comes to audience interaction and refusing to shy away from the potential such a rare opportunity presents in a show like this. Vocally outrageous as well as engaging, DeVoe really takes the performance by storm, especially in “Can’t Fight This Feeling”— the ultimate comedic duet between himself and Tom Hartzell’s character. Wicked, wild, and wonderful, DeVoe is exactly the personality needed to carry off the role of Lonny, creating a unique and entertaining interactive experience for the audience.

Brandon Zebley (left) as Drew, Ryan Devoe (center) as Lonny, and Tom Hartzell (right) as Dennis
Brandon Zebley (left) as Drew, Ryan DeVoe (center) as Lonny, and Tom Hartzell (right) as Dennis Scott Serio

It doesn’t get better than this when it comes to capturing the last great iconic era of big hair, hot chicks, and 80’s rock— true to the show’s tagline, it’s nothing but a good time! The search is over: Milburn Stone Theatre has found the rock show of shows with Rock Of Ages. Will you experience the awesomeness that defies description before it’s too late? Don’t wait— with just six performances— this is a must-see for the books this 2017 season! Enjoy having your face melted, and come feel the noise!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

Rock Of Ages plays through February 19, 2017 at The Milburn Stone Theatre— 1 Seahawk Drive in North East, MD. For tickets call the box office at 410-287-1037 or purchase them online.

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