The single, most remarkable thing that made the Manila staging of “Rock of Ages” (directed by Chari Arespacochaga) unique is that it’s a veritable concert by a cast almost entirely composed of celebrated local recording artists. And the best part was that it was perfectly all right for the audience to sing along with them. How’s that for a good time?
That is not to say our stage artists are not up to the task. Atlantis Productions is no alien to staging musicals: It has done the local versions of “Rent” (2001), “Dreamgirls” (2003), “Hairspray” (2008) and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (2011), smash hits in themselves. “Rock of Ages” is its latest production, with more planned this year including “God of Carnage” starring Lea Salonga and Adrian Pang.
Everyone who has seen the film adaptation is familiar with the Broadway jukebox musical written by Chris D’Arienzo. The story of a city boy and a small-town girl, a crumbling altar of music—“Rock of Ages” is about the pursuit of happiness in the last years of big hair, shoulder pads and glamorous rock ‘n’ roll.
Drew (Nyoy Volante) is an aspiring rock star working at Bourbon Room, a decaying monument to decadence owned by Dennis Dupree (Jamie Wilson). It’s a lively and colorful opening (“Just Like Paradise/Nothin’ But A Good Time”) made more engaging by the musical’s narrator, Lonny (Jet Pangan with a mullet—the sight of which is worth the price of admission) who breaks the fourth wall frequently by interacting with the audience. It’s clearly a show that shouldn’t be taken seriously. There Drew meets small-town girl Sherrie (Vina Morales, in her debut musical theater performance), and the attraction between them is immediate (“More Than Words/Heaven/To Be With You” and in “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”)
The Bourbon Room is about to be demolished, with other establishments of “decadence” in LA’s Sunset Strip, no thanks to a German developer, Hertz (Calvin Millado), and his son Franz (Bibo Reyes) who have convinced the Mayor to “clean up” the city (“Too Much Time on My Hands/We Built This City”). The city planner Regina (Aiza Seguerra) leads the protest against the demolitions (“We’re Not Gonna Take It.”)
Meanwhile, revival of the Bourbon is dependent on the final performance of Arsenal as a band, led by the self-absorbed legend Stacee Jaxx (Mig Ayesa, who played the same role on Broadway.)
The musical ends on a bittersweet epilogue quite unlike the sugar-sweet happy ending of the film. In the end, the message is that dreams still do come true even if they’d be a little different from what you initially planned. By that time, with the company’s prodding, the audience is on its feet singing along to the Journey anthem “Don’t Stop Believing.”
The entire cast is amazing—from the lead to the ensemble to the band. The energy they discharge is impossible to shake off hours after the show. It had me grinning from start to end.
It’s one fun nostalgic trip back to the age of hairspray, bandanas and leather pants—but mainly because I grew up listening to these hits. Who can blame a child who would wake up to his brothers’ Led Zeppelin, Uriah Deep, Pink Floyd and Queen on the turntable, and then list Poison as his favorite band in high school?
It’s a surprise that Nyoy has the power vocals that range from the lows of the ballads to the screeching highs of “I Wanna Rock” and “Cum on Feel the Noize.” His Drew is just the right interplay of sheepishness, angst or mischief whenever needed.
Then there are other noteworthy stops: a scene-stealing and vivacious Bibo Reyes in “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Keep on Loving You;” Aiza in lingerie, stilettos and net stockings that had the audience roaring wildly; Jet and Jamie (swaggering with his long locks as if he’s had them all his life) in a tender “Can’t Fight This Feeling”; Jinky Llamanzares’ full-bodied voice as owner of the Venus Club; and, of course, Ayesa whose Stacee exudes the quintessential rock star who can charm everyone to his begging, on and off-stage. Mig’s vocals are beyond description, from “Wanted Dead or Alive” to “Renegade”, and even that funny Spanish thing in the end.
But the true revelation is Vina Morales whose incredible vocals and sheer magnetism (and perfect abs) provide a nuanced characterization of Sherrie. She also does a steamy lap dance. All of this culminates in her performance of “The Search is Over.” She can easily do more musical theater after this. Is there an award for breakthrough performance? Give it to her.
Long after the last curtain falls this Sunday, the cast and crew of “Rock of Ages” deserve our thanks for putting up a very memorable, joyful experience for rockers of all ages and even for those who have just recently been converted.
How about a tour, guys?
“Rock of Ages” is on its last weekend run Friday night, Saturday and Sunday at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Bldg., Buendia corner Ayala Ave., Makati.