Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Directed by: Janie Scott
Choreographed by: Zendrex Llado
Music direction by: Lauran Bevilacqua
Featuring: Sven Schutz, Izetta Klein, Joey McDaniel, Jason Mooney, Jessica LaFever, Jimmy Mason, Jessica Whittemore, Shawn Bender, Barbara Heninger, Stephen Kanaski, Shannon Kelly, Nicholas Rodrigues, Robbie Reign, Breanna van Gastel, Alex Cox, Amanda Le Nguyen, Victor Ragsdale
Band: Lauran Bevilacqua on keys, Nick Schott and Ralph Zazula on guitars, Daniel Murguia on bass, Ryan Stohs on drums
Running time: 150 minutes, one intermission
When: April 27 through May 13, 2018
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $25-$55 (discounts available). Call 650-329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.
can't save 'Rock of Ages'
but book, music choices are disappointing
I loved the Palo Alto Players production of "Rock of Ages," for its excellent cast, its excellent band, and a beautiful, fun set.
But it's still a mediocre musical.
"Rock of Ages" is a jukebox musical based on popular rock songs from the 1980s, which meant that I spent about a third of the time at the Palo Alto Players production wishing I could hit a button on my car radio to listen to another station.
In the '80s I listened to blues music, '60s-'70s rock, and classical music, and to a few of the songs that are in this show. I loved pretty much everything Steve Perry ever recorded, I liked "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and "We Built This City," and was intrigued by a number of other songs used in this show, such as "Wanted Dead or Alive," "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "Sister Christian." But a good portion of this show, including, say, "Beaver Hunt" and "Cum On Feel the Noize" were quickly radio-punched into oblivion, at least in my car.
And sure, lots of people loved all those songs, and are probably glad to see them in this show — which ran 2,328 performances on Broadway, tying with "Man of La Mancha" (a much better show, to these ears) for 28th longest running show of all time.
What really bugs me about this production, which is beautifully mounted on a colorful set by Players Artistic Director Patrick Klein, and smoothly directed by the great Janie Scott, is that some of my very favorite performers are in it, but are not always well served by the music or the arrangements. That despite an excellent band, with music director Lauren Bevilacqua on keys, Nick Schott and Ralph Zazula on guitars, Daniel Murguia on bass, and Ryan Stohs on drums.
The guilt lies with Ethan Popp, who did the arrangements and orchestrations for this show. There's not much an individual production can do to change such things, when rights are negotiated for a show. The book, by Chris D'Arienzo, also left quite a bit to be desired.
I'd go see Izetta Klein, Joe McDaniel, Jessica Whittemore and Barbara Heninger in almost anything, and after this show, Jessica LaFever has also joined that list. The entire cast, in fact, and the excellent band, all perform as well as anybody possibly could.
But too much of the music just does not float my boat, and too many of the arrangements are very poorly written, modifying music that originally relied on the voices of the individuals who performed them originally. For instance, there are only two people on the planet who can truly sing like Steve Perry, and one of them is Perry himself; the other is Arnel Pineda, a Filipino who didn't originally speak English and had to learn the songs phonetically before taking Perry's job in Journey.
Which isn't to say that people in this cast didn't put in the effort, and it pays off on some tunes, especially the big anthem, "Don't Stop Believin'." Izetta Klein had the best pipes in this show, really delivering on a few songs, with a powerful, growly voice.
There is a story meant to tie the songs together. It is narrated by Sven Schutz as Lonny, and Schutz is fun to watch, with a Guy Fawkes soul patch and a wink in his eye. He's sort of a cross between El Gallo and Puck.
Jason Mooney is Drew, who arrives in Hollywood hoping to be a rock star. The songs he writes are focused largely on breasts. Funny stuff, actually.
Drew meets Sherrie, played by LaFever. She is a Midwestern girl who wants to be a star and who has large breasts, so Drew is immediately smitten. Plus, she seems really nice.
Drew misses his chance to make a move with her, so instead she falls into the clutches of an established rock star, Stacee Jaxx, played by Jimmy Mason, who is terrific.
Same old Hollywood story: Stacee has sex with Sherrie in the men's room (fine little roll-on set-piece), then gets her fired from the club, forcing her to become a pole dancer.
Drew has a brief period as a pop star, before becoming a pizza delivery guy.
Then the show just gets silly.
There are several good gags in dialog. "I'm no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim!" Talking about the Midwest, "Did you know there's no ocean there?" Delivered with lots of swish: "I am not gay! I am just German!"
Jason Mooney is a good singer, with a big range, as Drew, although his acting isn't entirely compelling.
LaFever is terrific as Sherrie. Her singing and dancing are solid (although her pole dancing is a little weak), but what really works is the empathy she brings to this Midwestern gal lost in the horrors of Hollywood.
Mason, who is from Palo Alto but is now based in New York, brings a lot to Stacee, who has quite an emotional path to follow, from big-deal rock star to washed-up fugitive from justice.
The band was onstage the whole show, playing extremely well, and using amplifier gain or some other effects to get the sustained notes without deafening the audience.
Heninger was very good as the German developer who wants to remove sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll from Sunset Strip. Stephen Kanaski was funny as the developer's son, who wants to run a confectionary shop in Germany, not develop businesses in Hollywood.
Whittemore was fun to watch as Regina (rhymes with vagina), who wants to stop the development and save the Bourbon Room rock club. Her voice, while excellent, was not well served by the songs she had to sing.
McDaniel was solid as Dennis, the club owner, but most of the zaniness in his role was relegated to background slides, more than to his onstage performance except for his very last bit, which was silly and funny.
Costume designer Scarlet Kellum was right-on with her choices. Sound designer Brandi Larkin's work was excellent, as was that of lighting designer Edward Hunter.
Overall, an excellent production, other than D'Arienzo's lighter-than-helium book and Popp's disappointing arrangements.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org