‘Rock of Ages’: Teenaged cast brings big-hair era to life

ROCK THIS TOWN South Valley Civic Theatre’s “Rock of Ages” features savvy casting and strong voices. Photo: Elizabeth Mandel

There’s nothing like the enthusiasm of young people for the music of an earlier generation to ratchet up the excitement of a community theater musical production.

Savvy casting, strong voices and solid acting in South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of the high school edition of Rock of Ages make up for any shortcomings on the technical side, as director/choreographer Megan Griffin keeps a loose hand on a huge cast of teenagers. Decked out in ‘80s “fashion” and some truly astonishing wigs, the teenagers bring the era of big-hair and heavy metal bands to raucous life.

Rock of Ages tells the story of a starry-eyed naïf from Paola, Kansas, who heads to Los Angeles’ famous Sunset Strip over her parents’ objections to become a star. Instead, she meets an aspiring rock musician at the nightclub where she gets a job, finds herself also smitten by the actual Rock Star who breaks her heart, and ultimately comes to understand things about herself and the wider world.

Griffin has cast her three principals—small town girl Sherrie Christian, would-be rocker Drew Boley and rock star Stacee Jaxx—with three teenagers who work their way confidently around the stage, the songs and each other. 

Emily Pember brings a wonderfully nuanced, giddy sweetness paired with some sensible Kansas realism to Sherrie, and her ballads, both solo and paired with her competing love interests, are lovely.

Andy Gonzalez plays Drew, the Bourbon Club busboy who dreams of life behind a guitar and a microphone; Gonzalez is so relaxed in the rocker persona it’s like he stepped out of an earlier decade.

Gannon Janisch has tremendous fun with the role of rock star Stacee Jaxx, who travels with a coterie of screaming groupie girls. Outfitted in leather chaps and a fur vest over his bare chest, he can barely be seen behind the curtain of hair as he moves through the expected adulation with an air of privilege and self-absorption.

The love triangle between Sherrie, Drew and Stacee sometimes takes a back seat to a plot line involving the sale of the Bourbon Club to a pair of German developers (Isabella Rosal and PJ Crocker) who convince the mayor (Catherine Drayton) to clean up the Sunset Strip from its “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” reputation. Rosal is hilarious, if occasionally unintelligible, as the imperious Hilda Klinemann, while Crocker as her cowering son Franz comes into his own later in the show and steals a couple of scenes, most notably “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in which the cast, outfitted in hot pink Spandex, leaps about in ‘80s Jazzercise form.

Jenna Hernandez provides the show’s solid underpinning with her comic narration as Lonny, the Bourbon Room’s manager. Lauren DeRosa is sassy as the mayor’s assistant-turned-anti-development-protestor Anita Bath, and Austin Vandecoevering is cool as a cucumber under a blow-dried, streaked blond coiffure and matching ‘stache as beleaguered club owner Dennis Dupree.

A six-piece live band led by vocal and orchestra director Michael Rubino is careful not to overpower the actors with solid renditions of “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorns,” “Don’t Stop Believin’, “We Built This City” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”

South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of “Rock of Ages: High School Edition” continues through March 14 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Ticket information: www.SVCT.org.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.