Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Rock of Ages
Devon Frieder Productions
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Dean's recent review of The Dinner Party


Devon Frieder and Dylan Phillips
Photo by Kaleah Baca
If you know the lyrics to the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'," you already know the basic plot of the musical Rock of Ages. Just a small town girl and a city boy from Detroit, they take the midnight train going anywhere. Anywhere for them is Los Angeles, where they're among the strangers waiting up and down the boulevard for their big break–hers as an actress, his as a rock star. The boulevard is, of course, Sunset. Or you could call it the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

After a 15-month Off-Broadway run, Rock of Ages ran on Broadway from 2009 to 2015 (with a nearly three-month break in 2011 while changing theaters), which is longer than I would have expected, but nostalgia always fills the seats. It's a jukebox musical, taking thirty rock songs from the 1980s and constructing a script to fit. These aren't pop songs, as in Mamma Mia!. They're hard rock, mostly by the glam rock/hair bands of the time, with some power ballads thrown in. Some of those bands probably got their start on the Sunset Strip. Chris D'Arienzo did a clever job of writing a book that accommodates the music.

The Strip was pretty down and out in the '80s. Most of the action in the show takes place at the Bourbon Room, a (ficticious) rock club that's failing. It's owned by chronic stoner Dennis, whose career high was being in a band that opened for Foghat a few times. His assistant and the narrator of the show is Lonny, who also gave up trying to be a star and settled for doing sound at the club. Rock of Ages is, among other things, a tribute to the 996 out of a thousand who never make it big in L.A. The sweet thing about the show is that it's about folks with a dream, and even though that dream doesn't come true, at least they had the guts to try.

The male half of the ingenue couple, Drew (the boy from Michigan), works at the Bourbon Room sweeping up and cleaning the godawful bathroom. He's hoping to become a rock star using the moniker Wolfgang von Colt. Like that's gonna happen. He meets the girl from Kansas, Sherrie Christian, on the Strip just when she is mugged and her bag with all her money is stolen. ("Sherrie Christian" is a great name because it lets the songs "Oh Sherrie" and "Sister Christian into the show.) They immediately know they're meant for each other, but there wouldn't be much of a show if they hooked up right then and there. There are plenty of tribulations to go through first, and the very survival of the Bourbon Room is up for grabs. I don't want to give away any more of the story. Let's just say that I enjoyed every minute of it and found myself smiling and laughing all the way through.

Like all of Devon Frieder's productions, this one is high energy, and it showcases a lot of young local talent. Devon not only produces but also directs and choreographs, and the acting and dancing are spot on. On top of everything, she plays Sherrie and is terrific. Dylan Phillips is perfectly cast as Drew. His vocals are a little rough at times, except for the high notes, but he's so darn cute that the singing doesn't matter.

Really, everyone in the cast knocks it out of the park. Stage veterans like Ron Gallegos, Danny McBride, Laura Cummins-Wright, Gillian Foster, and John Shelton seem to having a great time. Xavier Visage is unfortunately saddled with the role of an asshole fading rocker with the wonderful name Stacie Jaxx. You can hardly see his face for the big hair and sunglasses, but he gets to show off his zero-body-fat torso a lot. In a class by himself is Walker Stovall as the son of the German developer who wants to tear down the Strip and gentrify it. Walker is so over the top that you can't take your eyes off him, but what a pleasure it is to see such fearlessness. Does the name Falco ring a bell for you? If so, this is the show for you.

The supporting players are not really supporting. They're on stage a lot, speaking and singing and dancing, and they all deserve applause: Maura Chavez, Laura Garrett, Nicholas Handley, Westin Huffman, Lando Ruiz, and Adrianne Wise.

Madi Frost done a fine job as music director. I'm not sure who exactly designed the set (Robert and Laura Wright are credit with painting and decorating it), but it's a wonder. How do you go from the Bourbon Room to a strip club or to the mayor's office in under five seconds? They figured it out, and I'm sure they didn't have much of a budget to work with. Carpentry by Jason Roman and props by Emily Robinson create a totally realistic Bourbon Room. Costumes by Christopher Decker and Diane Baca and Devon are more lavish than you would expect. The lighting by Brittney Baker and sound by Lando Ruiz are perfect. Kaleah Baca is the production coordinator and she and Chloe Jain stage manage, which must be an awful lot of work considering the large cast and set changes. But as with all good stage managers, you don't realize it.

Devon has been putting on a show in Albuquerque every January. It's one of the theatre events I look forward to the most every year. Even if rock music from the '80s is not your cup of tea (and it's not mine either), don't miss this show.

Devon Frieder Productions' Rock of Ages runs through February 5, 2023, at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Rd NE B, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 4:00. Info at www.facebook.com/DevonFriederProductions/.


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