Jun 28, 2012

[Theater] Rock of Ages (Atlantis Productions)

Musical theater is such a wonderful, well, experience is the best word that comes to mind, quite frankly. It's more than just a movie or a TV show. Because you have the actors performing right in front of you, it adds a certain degree of, well, realism and greater interactivity of sorts. It's hard to explain unless you've been to a professional theater production.

But that's the thing - no matter where you're seated in the audience, the mere act of being there allows you to connect more directly with the actors. I guess the best way to describe it is that it's similar to what people experience when they watch a band perform live at a concert and other things of that nature.

It probably doens't help that when you mention musical theather, people think of the much older players that at times are indeed a bit more difficult to appreciate or even relate to. But thankfully playrights are a lot more flexible than some people give them credit for and we end up with fabulous shows like this one that manage to connect with a wider audience range.

Synopsis: Rock of Ages is a Broadway rock jukebox musical based on a book by Chris D'Arienzo. The Broadway run was nominated for 5 Tony Awards, two Drama League nominations and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. The local staging was handling by Atlantis Productions under the direction of Chari Arespacochaga and runs from June 15 - July 8. At the time of this posting, it has been reported that the entire run is completely sold out so any chances of catching it without tickets in hand will require you to wait for either an extension of the run or a repeat at a later date.

The show begins with Lonny (Jett Pangan), who more or less acts as the show's narrator and is also a character, who introduces us to a Hollywood bar known as The Bourbon Room owned by Dennis Dupree (Jamie Wilson). It's 1987 and by now the bar has been witness to many rock legends and thus many aspiring rockers, like the busboy / waiter Drew (Nyoy Volante), make the trek to the bar in the hopes of making a name for themselves. Beyond his dreams of becoming the next big name in rock, Drew quickly falls in love with Sherrie (Vina Morales), an aspiring actress all the way from Oklahoma.

In another part of the city, German developers Hertz (Calvin Millado) and Franz (Bibo Reyes) Klineman arrive with a proposal for the mayor - to clean up the Sunset Strip of all these seedy bars, ease out the culture of "sex. drugs and rock & roll" and somehow revitalize the town. The plan upsets the City Planner Regina (Aiza Seguerra) but the Mayor agrees due to the sizable investment. As she is fired from her job, Regina decides to take to the streets and lead the fight against the city's new plan.

Now my synopsis hardly captures the humor inherent in the writing of this play - and this goes beyond the mere fact that a lot of it involves breaking the fourth wall between the players and the audience. And since this is a local production, the actors took liberties in taking advantage of the various ad-libs and asides to help the play feel a lot more at home despite it's Hollywood setting.

Now from the synopsis alone, you can already see that Atlantis managed to put together a pretty stellar cast to bring this play to life. And I didn't even get to mention one of the bigger names involved - this being MiG Ayesa playing the role of Stacee Jaxx, the big rock star who somewhat owes his beginnings to The Bourbon Room. And this is the same role that Ayesa performed during one one of the Broadway runs of the show.

Now we already saw how well Nyoy Volante managed his leading roles in both In The Heights and Legally Blonde. He's really managed to nail down how to be somewhat adorkable and endearing, which made him perfect for the role of Drew. And it goes without saying that he has the vocal chops for the role given his music career outside of his growing resume of theater work. But another local music man who did tremendously well was Jett Pangan as the hilarious Lonny. He has the most interaction with the audience and a lot of the play rides on his shoulders, and Jett really rose to the challenge and blew us all away.

I was pleasantly surprised by Vina Morales - and this goes beyond how fit she is these days. She managed herself pretty well in the vocal department and her acting wasn't half bad either. She had a few awkward moments, but I'm sure that she'll get over it in time should she choose to continue this career in theater. And of course there's Aiza Seguerra, whom I had last seen perform live back during the 2007 run of Avenue Q. Based on that show alone I knew she could more than handle herself with a live theater production but she did even better this time around. Seriously, Regina may seem like a minor role but she totally rocked it through and through!

I could go on and on about each of the actors given they all did so well in the production, but we have to go back to the main point of any musical - the music! And man, given this is a play that celebrates 1980's-1990's rock, you know this is a show that had broad appeal. From the very start with songs like Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize" (also covered by Quiet Riot in 1983), Starship's "We Built This City" and even Foreigner's "I Wanna Know What Love Is" - the show features a lot of songs that touched a generation, which would explain a large composition of the audience when we watched. It's just a shame that it was taking a while for people to shake off their inhibitions since audience participation (read: singing along) was very, very minimal.

But that wasn't because it was a bad show. On the contrary, I dare say that this was one of the best Atlantis musicals that I've seen yet! And this is considering how much we all loved their run of In The Heights! It was a really fun play with great witty humor woven into the entire narrative from start to finish and all in all it made for a fantastic afternoon. If you get a chance to see the play somehow, you definitely have to go!

And please, do NOT let the recent movie based on the play color your impressions of this production. They're two entirely different art forms.

Rock of Agesis the sort of play that's a lot easier to connect to for more people because of the use of familiar songs, the good writing, and the spot-on humor all brought together by a phenomenal cast. I count ourselves very lucky indeed to have gotten a chance to watch the show and you would too given a chance. Thus it is without a doubt that I give the show a full 5 kick ass segues into amazing rock songs out of a possible 5.

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