‘Rock of Ages’ at Cygnet a tongue-in-cheek guilty pleasure

Strong singing and onstage band enliven jukebox musical about love gone wrong at an ‘80s music club in L.A.


For lovers of music from the 1980s, this summer offers a theatrical wealth of local entertainment. All summer long, the ‘80s-themed “miXtape” is playing at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. And on Saturday, the Southern California regional premiere of the ‘80s jukebox musical “Rock of Ages” opened 9 miles away at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

Where “miXtape” is an all-singing, all-dancing revue, “Rock of Ages” has a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy plot set in a storied L.A. music club facing the wrecking ball. As director Sean Murray says in his program notes, the plot of “Rock of Ages” isn’t deep. It’s about having a good time, and thanks to his playful direction, eye-popping period costumes, powerful singing and a crack onstage rock band, it delivers. As Murray writes, sometimes we just need to have fun and rock on.

“Rock of Ages” tells the roller-coaster love story of aspiring rock singer Drew and aspiring actress Sherrie. They meet and fall in love while working at The Bourbon Room, an aging music club on the Sunset Strip run by graying ex-hippie Dennis and his faithful sound man, Lonny. But when self-adoring rock star Stacee Jaxx plays the Bourbon Room, he romances and discards Sherrie and she ends up working at a strip club. Meanwhile, Drew gets signed to a record label, but as a pop boy band singer and becomes disillusioned with the music industry. Meanwhile, German real estate developer Hertz and his free-spirited son Franz are preparing to bulldoze gritty West Hollywood in the name of progress.

The story plays out to the songs of Journey, REO Speedwagon, Whitesnake, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Styx, Foreigner and more in new arrangements by Ethan Popp to suit the characters and story. Although complimentary earplugs are available in the lobby, they’re not needed. This isn’t a blow-out-your-ears show. Music director Patrick Marion, who conducts the onstage five-piece band from the keyboard under a black ‘80s wig, presents a faithful rock show, but within the story framework, and the vocal theatrics and harmonies are tight and controlled.

The musical is narrated by Lonny, played with audience-engaging intensity by Victor E. Chan, who immediately breaks the fourth wall to bring viewers in on the joke that they’re watching a lighthearted ‘80s musical. That sense of winking playfulness pervades every scene and it’s brought to colorful life in Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ riotously colorful costumes.

Rory Gilbert has a gentle demeanor but stratospheric tenor voice as Drew, and he shares nice vocal chemistry with Sherrie, played with girl-next-door innocence by Megan Carmitchel. Berto Fernandez is a charismatic scene-stealer as club owner Dennis. And Bryan Banville is hilariously self-absorbed as the libidinous and not-too-bright Stacee Jaxx.

Anise Ritchie is fierce but kind as Justice, the strip club owner with the heart; John Rosen and Zackary Scot Wolfe are a comic tag team as father and son Hertz and Franz; Emma Nossal has some pluck as the anti-development protester Regina; and Tamara Rodriguez stands out in the ensemble for her singing and dancing skills. Completing the cast are E.Y. Washington, Bailey Day Sonner, Siri Hafso and Drew Bradford.

Katie Banville’s ‘80s-inspired choreography is lively and fun. Sean Fanning’s club scenic design is enhanced by period-inspired projections by Blake McCarty. TJ Fucella designed sound, Amanda Zieve designed the DayGlo lighting and Peter Herman designed wigs and makeup.

Note to families: While “miXtape” is suitable for all ages, “Rock of Ages” has some sex and drugs with its rock ‘n’ roll.

“Rock of Ages”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 25.

Where: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town.

Tickets: $35-$65 (discounts available)

Phone: (619) 337-1525