Nothin’ But a Good Time
Rock of Ages, a rock/jukebox musical, makes its Hawaii premiere at Manoa Valley Theatre. Hannah Schauer Galli directed this celebration of rock music from the 80s, and what a celebration it was! Staged with all the energy, bombast, and chemistry this show requires, and wonderfully lit like the giant venue rock concert it deserves to be, Rock of Ages delivered face-melting fun in spades.
Playfully narrated by one of the bar men of the Bourbon Room, Lonny (Jesie Rocetes), the musical takes the audience to the late-80s in Los Angeles, specifically the Sunset Strip, where the aforementioned Bourbon Room is located. There, aspiring rocker Drew (Joshua Haili-Silva) and aspiring actor Sherry (Michelle Busekrus) meet. Drew convinces his boss and the owner of the Bourbon Room, Dennis Dupree (Garrett Hols), to hire Sherry to help her make ends meet before she makes it big. Meanwhile, German developers and father/son pair, Hertz and Franz (Montana West Rizutto and Andrew Baker), successfully bribe the mayor to transform the Sunset Strip, known for its “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” lifestyle, into a gentrified area rife with “clean, efficient living.” Former city planner, Regina (Melanie Kohler), sees this happening and takes it upon herself to stop the destruction of the Sunset Strip by leading protests and rallies. A lot is going on —this barely covers the first three introductory numbers— but it is by no means hard to follow. Lonny weaves the storylines together in and out, introducing love, loss, Mama Justice (Aiko Schick) and her gentleman’s club, Stacee Jaxx (Kenny Kusaka) and the tumult he naturally carries with him, and more, all to rock favorites from the 80s played by a live band on stage.
The cast rocks hard and keeps the story tight. Working as a unit, scene transitions are almost seamless and a crowded bar can beautifully erupt into choreographed dance at a strum of the guitar. The actors were solid with their performances, giving their heart and soul into their songs, as rockers are wont to do, while also keeping choreography tight with some great pole dance work from, I think, almost everyone in the cast. Stunning us in the audience were Schick and Busekrus, two dynamic voices that consistently rocked our seats. Haili-Silva also earned his leading boy role by hitting the hard-to-reach notes the genre often asks of its front men/women. Kusaka was not present with his voice, which was hard at times because his character had some great songs to rock to from by Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, Asia, and Styx. However, his comedic stylings with his perpetually inebriated rockstar character kept the audience laughing. Rocetes, as the narrator Lonny, was a favorite— the character breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, keeping things light and playful with everyone all night, working the crowd very well. The REO Speedwagon number between Rocetes and Hols, brought the house down. The two’s shenanigans were really fun to watch, even under threat of the bar’s destruction.
Ultimately, if you love rock music from the 80s, you will have fun with this show. If you don’t like rock music from the 80s, get ready to hear a whole lot of it while you watch the lives of these fun characters intersect while the fate of the Bourbon Room hangs in the balance. The lighting, designed by Chikako Omoso, was big, dramatic, and not unlike seeing any of these rock bands in concert, elevating the show in the best way possible. DeAnne Kennedy’s set was fun and functional, and I personally was super stoked to see an actual 80s Toyota Corolla make it into the production. Big ups to costumes, hair, and makeup— James Corry and Lisa Ponce de Leon really nailed it with how they visually captured the look and feel of the time. Be sure to get your tickets to this show quickly— I attended a packed Friday night performance, and some shows are already sold out. Rock of Ages is running through April 8 at Manoa Valley Theatre.