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REVIEW: Tongue-in-Cheek Rock of Ages Opens Loud (Orpheum/HTT)

Sam Harvey (center) and the cast of the Rock of Ages National Tour. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

It’s been ten years since Rock of Ages opened on Broadway for what became a 2,328-performance run. This jukebox musical, now playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, features numerous rock hits from the 1980s, a tongue-in-cheek treatment of power rock stereotypes, and liberal doses of big hair.

This is not the first time that Rock of Ages has come to the Twin Cities, but it is the first time with the current touring cast. With the new cast has come a more strongly satirical vibe, with a bit less reverence and a bit more gleeful poking fun at the material. Based on the reactions in the opening night audience, the material and performances found a great resonance with the 40-and-up crowd, many of whom spontaneously took to dancing during some of the power ballads and rock anthems.

Anthony Nuccio and Katie LaMark play would-be rocker Drew and would-be actress Sherrie. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

As a jukebox musical, there’s little expectation of Rock of Ages having an intricate and nuanced playscript; it is unabashedly an excuse to riff on and power through an electric music catalogue filled with searing vocals and powerful guitar solos. You will miss nothing of importance if you arrived at the first seating interval – it’s just not that kind of show. It’s best enjoyed taken none to seriously, probably with some ear protection (the show is loud), and with some advance awareness that it’s a little harder to get mid-show drinks than at a typical rock concert.

Rock of Ages is at its best when it’s over the top, as in the simulated groupie bathroom sex scene (say that three times fast) between rock heartthrob Stacie Jaxx (Sam Harvey) and a starstruck Sherrie (Katie LaMark). As narrator Lonny (John-Michael Breen) points out during several of the show’s fourth wall breaches, this isn’t serious drama – far from it. There’s an ostensible romance, a gentrification storyline of sorts, and a lot of choreography that pokes fun at genre tropes. The songs blend together a bit, but this didn’t seem to be an issue for many in the audience. And that’s pretty much all you need to know about the show.

A wisp of a story about gentrification threads through Rock of Ages. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Rock of Ages plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN through February 10.

Basil Considine