Set in 1987 Los-Angeles’ pre-gentrification Sunset Strip, at the peak of glam rock and hair height, the play starts with city boy Drew (Daniel “DJ” Shafer) meeting small-town girl Sherrie (Meghan Corbett) at the Bourbon Room, an infamous — albeit fictional — rock club and dive bar. Their dreams of love and fame are quickly derailed by singer and diva Stacee Jaxx (Brennan Hattaway), who deflowers Sherrie in a bathroom stall. Meanwhile, German developers Hertz and Franz Klineman (Jonathan Hamilton and Holden Santi, respectively) are looking to convert the strip into high end retail. The story that unfolds from there, narrated by charismatic Bourbon Room sound guy Lonny Barnett (Kyle Harwood), is an epic tale of love, redemption and lots of rocking.
It would be easy for a show like “Rock of Ages” to devolve into nostalgic fluff, but the writing is actually quite strong. Playwright Christopher D’Arienzo’s script never takes itself too seriously, but the actors perform the songs —such as Whitesnake’s “Hear I Go Again” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns” — like dialogue in a musical, adding an emotional subtext to every number.
While every actor shines, one in particular adds real gravitas to her role. Angie Bradley plays Justice Charlier, owner of a local strip club that eventually employs Sherrie. Bradley’s role is small but pivotal, and her seasoned voice imbues songs like Pat Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” with serious, dark energy.
For his part, Harwood plays off her dark energy with effortless swagger. As the one character who breaks the fourth wall, Harwood revels in playing off the audience — even amid show-stopping technical difficulties.
But the most valuable player in this production may be director Garrett Bradley, whose cast ranges from MSU music majors to oncology nurses from as far as Ferndale. Bradley, along with co-choreographer Erica Duffield, fine tuned his cast into a blended ensemble while still managing to make individual performances stand out.
On the technical side, musical director Cole DeVilbiss and sound designer Joe Grant present a band that rocks hard without overpowering the singers. The stunning set, designed by Dirk Rennick and Dan Wenzlick, looks impressively similar to that of the national touring production. The set uses space in creative ways, including a bathroom mini-stage that pulls out from the wall. Finally, Cathy McHargue-Johnson’s costumes make the cast look period appropriate and sexy.
The one notable exception to the show’s perfection is sound. A big production like “Rock of Ages,” of course, is a technically complicated affair. But body mics cracked and popped during almost every song of the first act in Friday’s production. Halfway through Act One, the sound completely dropped, and the production took an unscheduled five minute intermission. Fortunately, the sound issues were mostly fixed before the stellar second act.
Technical issues aside, “Rock of Ages” is an incredible achievement and tons of fun. This show encourages you to embrace your inner freak and promises to rock you “Any Way You Want It.”
“Rock of Ages”
Owosso Community Players
8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 17;
3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18
$20/$18 seniors and students/$10 children
Lebowsky Center 122 E. Main St., Owosso
(989) 723-4003, owossoplayers.com