“I’m always workin, slavin’, everyday. Gotta get away from the same old, same old. I need a chance just to get away. If you could hear him think, this is what he’d say: don’t need nothin’ but a good time. How can I resist? Ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ but a good time, and it don’t get better than this.”
Everyone knows that the 1980s was a decade of rock’n’roll, big hair, and no care for societal expectations. It was a time where just about everyone wanted to be a rockstar and, well, you might have been if you were lucky enough. Rock of Ages by Chris D’Arienzo showcases these ideals through loud and over-the-top music that should sound familiar to every ear.
We are immediately introduced to the show’s narrator, Lonny Barnett. He tells the audience that the show is set in L.A. during the mid-to-late 80s, then introduces two more characters: Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Bourbon Room, as well as Drew Boley, a busboy for the Bourbon Room who aspires to be a rockstar. Both Drew and Dennis speak about how hard they work, but also state that they wouldn’t trade the life for anything.
Lonny quickly realizes that something- no, someone is missing from the equation. The scene changes to Kansas, where we see Sherrie Christian trying to leave her small-town life for a chance in the big city. When she gets to L.A., she is immediately mugged, which leads her to Drew Boley. He gets her situated in L.A., gets her a job, and finds out that they have many things in common.
Later, two German developers, Hertz (or Hilda, depending on the production) and his son Franz, propose an idea for a renovation project to the mayor. This renovation project would tear down every building along the Sunset Strip, which is something that the mayor’s secretary refuses to take. After getting fired, she launches an effort to stop the renovation.
Meanwhile, Dennis is thinking of throwing in the towel when he hears about the renovation. Lonny and Drew try to convince him not to do it, but he is convinced. That is until he gets an idea. He realizes that if he can get the famous rockstar Stacee Jaxx, who got his start at the Bourbon, to play there, that might bring in the revenue they need to keep the bar afloat. After blackmailing the star, Dennis finally convinces Stacee to come play at the venue.
After a protest staged by Regina (or Anita, depending on the production), the developers warn Dennis of the approaching date of the renovation. Once they leave, Lonny storms in and angrily tells Dennis that the opener for the Arsenal show has dropped out. Drew takes this as a chance to showcase his talent. Dennis allows him to after short deliberation, but only if he can perfect his craft. This leads him into a song about Sherrie as she is shown having a difficult conversation over the phone with her father.
The next day, Drew and Sherrie go on a date, but it’s cut short when Drew realizes that he has to go to work. (That’s what happens in the high school version, anyway.)
If you think that love is about to bust through the “friendship” wall, you’re wrong. In comes Stacee Jaxx. Once he gives a short performance at the Bourbon Room, he convinces Sherrie to go somewhere private with him to talk. As they are walking away, they get caught by Drew. Drew then goes on to open for Stacee, performing the song that he wrote for Sherrie. Stacee and Sherrie come back to the main area of the bar where Stacee convinces Dennis to fire Sherrie. Stacee goes onstage to perform as everything falls apart around Dennis. He fires Sherrie, the developers continue to target the Bourbon, and Drew quits in order to pursue a career in music. Sherrie quickly finds a job as a dancer/waitress at the Venus-A-Go-go.
Act Two opens with the destruction of the Sunset Strip. Dennis and Lonny react in horror while Regina increases her efforts to stop Hertz and Franz. Hertz calls the police on the protestors since they physically place themselves in the way of the destruction equipment and refuse to move. Once the police arrive and begin beating the protestors, Franz throws himself into the fight and begins to show an opposition toward his father.
At the Venus, Sherrie stresses over her first night on the job. Justice, the owner, and the other dancers console her while Drew is shown getting rejected by producer after producer. After Drew gets turned into a pop artist, he leaves to think over it and ends up at the Venus. He and Sherrie get into an argument, then sing in their heads about how much they love each other. Later, Stacee shows up at the Venus. He and Sherrie argue as well, but their argument ends in a situation that Drew walks in on and makes him think that Sherrie has something going on with Stacee.
Outside of the Bourbon Room, Franz is chatting with Regina. Hertz comes in and orders Franz to move all of the protestors out of the way, but he refuses. Hertz goes to hit his son, which leads Franz into finally standing up to his father. Franz finally sides with the protestors and Hertz disowns him then and there.
Inside the Bourbon Room, Dennis is packing everything away. He has everything put together, except for an entire wall of things and…a certain fog machine. Lonny walks in with the Fogmaster 5000 hugged to his chest. He begins to cry over having to leave and Dennis thinks that he’s upset because he doesn’t have another job to go to, but that isn’t the issue. Lonny professes his love for Dennis and Dennis confesses that he loves Lonny back.
Stacee decides to quit her job at the Venus in order to return to Kansas while Franz leaves to go back to Germany. Last minute, Lonny comes up to Drew and gets him to realize that it isn’t too late to stop Sherrie from leaving. Hertz is then shown regretting his decision of disowning his son when he runs into Regina, who is ready to set herself on fire as a final stand. Regina convinces him to give up and he convinces her not to set herself on fire. The focus is then shifted back to Drew as he catches up to Sherrie. He professes his love for her and stops her from leaving. Back at the Bourbon Room, Hertz gives ownership of the building back to Dennis and everyone lives happily ever after…well, almost.
Lonny turns back to the audience and gives an overview of what happens after the musical ends. Hertz and Franz return to Germany, Regina becomes the mayor of West Hollywood, Stacee is on the run from the law (for reasons we won’t discuss), and it is revealed that Dennis is dead, which is even a shock to him. Drew and Sherrie are now happy living together in Glendale, CA, where they have found love in place of fame.
Rock of Ages premiered in 2005 in Los Angeles, then had a few more runs in various other places before transferring Off-Broadway in 2008 and on Broadway in 2009. Their Broadway run ended in 2015, with many productions and tours in other locations during this time period. The musical was also turned into a film in 2012.
In the spring of 2019, the Flomaton High School Drama Club put on a production of Rock of Ages. Since I was in this production, I feel too biased to give a review of the musical, but it is worth a listen if 80s rock music is your style (or if you just want to relive your past.)
The Original Broadway Cast Recording, as well as the soundtrack from the film, is available on most streaming services. Highlight reels and performances from talk shows and award shows are available online.
“The dreams you come in with may not be the dreams you leave with, but hey, they still rock.”