By Dee Jae Cox
“We built this city, we built this city on rock an’ roll
Built this city, we built this city on rock an’ roll
Say you don’t know me, or recognize my face
Say you don’t care who goes to that kind of place
Knee deep in the hoopla, sinking in your fight
Too many runaways eating up the night.” – Jefferson Starship
A tune that once heard will forever be on an endless playback loop in the brain. Not a deep and meaningful lyric but one that most aptly describes modern history and Los Angeles Sunset Strip’s World Famous, Whisky a Go Go. The club has bragging rights in saying that as long as there has been a Los Angeles rock scene, there has been the Whisky A Go-Go. Opened in 1964, the Whisky A Go-Go has played host to rock ‘n’ roll’s most renowned bands, from the Doors, and Janis Joplin to Led Zeppelin. And what better setting for a Rock Musical than a venue known as the Bourbon Room, a fictional take on this iconic club.
Set in1980’s Los Angeles, the musical, “Rock of Ages” with book by Christopher D’Arienzo, features the music of classic rockers such as Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry and more. A five time Tony Award nominee that originated in Los Angeles in 2005 at the King King Club, before making its way to Broadway where it opened in 2009, Rock of Ages, has been performed around the world and its most recent incarnation can be seen at the Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs.
Rock of Ages, is the story of a boy, Drew (Nick Sloan) and a girl, Sherrie (Jennifer Singer) and dreams that don’t always turn out according to plan. But in the process of witnessing this tumultuous relationship, we are introduced to the L.A. rock scene of the 80’s through the eyes of some captivating characters. Dennis Dupree, (Kelly Peak) the owner of the Bourbon Room really lit up the stage for me. Peak was so authentic and personable in his role as a 1980’s former rocker turned club owner that he could have time warped back into the era and found himself at home. His abrupt and unexpected relationship with Lonny, the narrator, (Jacob Samples) seemed to come out of nowhere in the script and was a bit jarring, but otherwise it was smooth sailing for this rocking show.
Singer, in her role as Sherrie, the young and naive aspiring actress who discovers that she’s not in Kansas any more, gave an exceptionally moving performance as she finds herself forced to make compromising choices in her pursuit of Hollywood dreams. Jasmine Shaffer as Justice, was both empathetic and sultry in her role as the owner of the Venus Club. Singer and Shaffer give a heart wrenching performance of Quarterflash’s “Harden my Heart,” at the close of Act I.
Superwoman, activist, Regina, (Elizabeth Schmelling) is fun to watch as she leads the fight to save the Bourbon Room and the future of L.A.’s rock and roll legacy from foreign developers and corrupt politicians.
Palm Canyon Theater has one of the best Ensemble Casts that you will find on any stage. I absolutely love this group of talented and professional singers and dancers. They are sexy and bold and really brought the music to life under the direction and choreography of Andrea Bellato. It was a brave choice for Ms. Bellato to choose such a challenging project as her directorial debut and she succeed beautifully.
Opening weekend for Rock of Ages seemed to have a few sound glitches that affected the quality of the singing on occasion, but little could detract from the fun and excitement of a show that will leave more than one catchy tune playing on a loop in your head as you leave the theater. J.W. Layne’s set design was exceptionally creative and served the story well. Bravo to Palm Canyon Theatre for their all around excellence in production value on this show.
Rock of Ages, is targeted for any age group, though I think that those who remember the music of the 1980’s will derive a special pleasure. ‘Rock of Ages’ is currently in production through May 21st at the Palm Canyon Theatre, located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.
For Reservations: Box Office: 760.323.5123 – www.palmcanyontheatre.org
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project.
www.californiawoman411.com and www.lawomenstheatreproject.org.