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Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Rock of Ages
Keep on Rocking in the '80s
Musical Theatre Southwest

Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's recent reviews of Rumble and Woman on Fire

(clockwise from bottom left) Brandon Price McDaniel,
Virginia Asbury, Colin Burdge, and B. Chris Armijo

Photo Courtesy of Musical Theatre Southwest
Here's a mess of a musical that works its craziness even if you don't like musicals. All of the songs come from 1980s rock, all well known hits. The show is packed with 24 songs, many selections a blend of two songs, derived mostly from classic headbangers such as Twisted Sister, Night Ranger, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Joan Jett, and Journey. With punch-filled live music and pole dancing, it's a noisy blast.

Rock of Ages had a run in Los Angeles and then Off-Broadway before opening on Broadway in 2009. The Broadway closed in early 2015. It's essentially a nostalgic dance through '80s rock hits, but it's fun ride. With a book by Chris D'Arienzo and arrangements by Ethan Popp (perfect name), the story is culled from song lyrics. For instance, leading man Drew Boley says he's from Detroit to match the opening verse of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

The narrative is tongue-in-cheek even as it trots out conventional plot points. The characters frequently break the fourth wall, calling out to the audience and making fun of the cliché-ridden story. Basically, it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy struggles to re-get girl. Mixed in is a German developer with evil plans to buy up the holy home of L.A. rock, the Bourbon Room, and turn it into a strip mall. But all of that is just an excuse for the cast to let loose on classic power rock. Those hits sound stronger in this goofy setting than they did on the tinny car radios 30 years ago.

Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) has put together an excellent six-piece band that includes musical director Laurie Lopez with conducting duties and on violin, Alice Huang and Therese on keyboards, Hovey Corbin, Jr. on drums, Artha Meadors on bass, and Chris Nolan and Tim Nuzum on guitars. The characters in the story aptly carry the vocals.

Director Laura Nuzum, a veteran of tons of wonderful performances at MTS, has pulled together the many pieces—music, singing, choreography, acting, staging—into an effective whole: loose when need be, tight on the drum snaps.

The performances are lovely and well-tuned to the melodrama. The ensemble is the star. However, there are standouts, including Colin Burdge as Drew and Virginia Asbury as the starstruck Sherrie Christian. Asbury seems born for the leading lady role, having recently appeared as Ariel in The Little Mermaid (MTS) and Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (Albuquerque Little Theatre). MTS president B. Chris Armijo does a terrific turn as bar owner and impresario Dennis Dupree. Brandon Price McDaniel is perfect as his gay sidekick Lonny. Another crowd-pleasing treasure is Brian Clifton as the chocolates-loving Franz, son of the German developer.

One of the many great touches in this production is the pole dancing by Johanna Chong, Brynlyn Loomis, and Sarah Murrow. The trio are choreographed by Loomis, showing off gravity-defying moves on the poles. Yet they also blend well into the story, joining in with the conventional choreography by Luke Loffelmacher.

This production of Rock of Ages is an absolute blast. And I'm saying that as someone who was skeptical of the music when it first showed up on the American pop scene. In this nearly slapstick setting of pseudo-sexy macho hair bands in spandex sprawling across the stage in mock dramatics, the music finally makes sense. It all comes together in joy, reverie, and cheap fulfillment during Journey's indomitable anthem "Don't Stop Believin'". Come feel the noise.

Rock of Ages, directed by Laura Nuzum for Musical Theatre Southwest, at the Center for the Arts at 6320 Domingo Rd NE through October 30, 2016. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. For seniors, students and ATC members, admission is $20. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at

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