MANCHESTER, NH – If you spent most of your teenage allowance on hairspray and cassette tapes, then you’ll love what’s happening in The Bourbon Room when the fictional night spot comes to life during the Palace Theatre’s staging of the popular jukebox musical “Rock of Ages,” which opens Jan. 12.
The storyline – small town girl living in a lonely world gets lost in that goodtime rock’n’roll – is built around a catalogue of classic rock songs from the 1980s, including tracks from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe, to name just a few.
Laurie Elizabeth Gardner is thrilled to return to the Palace to reprise the role of Sherrie Christian, which she introduced two years ago when the show premiered at the Palace.
“I love the show, it’s a musical that actually goes beyond musical theater – dancing, singing, teamwork,” says Gardner. “You can’t not love the music, and audiences truly love to dance and sing along.”
The show is designed to be interactive – not only do the actors break the “fourth wall” by addressing the audience directly, but the production is designed to make the audience feel like they’re at a rock concert every time the electric guitars light up.
Andrew Sklar, also a returning cast member, will again play Lonny Barnett, who narrates the action and all the blow-by-blow interpersonal drama inside and outside the Bourbon Room, as the story follows Sherrie’s journey through her experience – from fish out of water, to swimming in deep end of the rock-n-roll pool.
In the middle, Sherrie falls hard for busboy rocker-wannabe Drew Boley (again played by Anthony Nuccio) , which seems to be going fine until glam-rock playboy Stacee Jaxx (played by Sam Harvey) enters their world.
“Playing Sherrie is a blast,” says Gardner. “She starts off being naive and embarking on a new journey – she has this dream of making it big – and then meets all these kooky characters along the way. She’s the one who changes the most in this show, and goes through the biggest transformation.”
Sklar, who totally identifies with his character – both of them wild and crazy guys – says this production is more of a remount for Palace Artistic Director Carl Rajotte, who is tweaking and improvising a bit, but retaining the elements from the 2016 production that made this show an audience favorite.
“I’ve been doing this show for six years, playing the role of Lonny, and the Palace is by far my favorite place to do it,” says Sklar.
“Rock of Ages” is the perfect reprieve from this New England winter – red hot production numbers and that warm, nostalgic feeling you get when you wave your Glo-stick in the air and bang your head to the bass-line of your favorite retro-rock tune. For Sklar, choosing his favorite production number is easy.
“Each one is incredible, but “Don’t stop Believing” is my pick – not just because it’s the end of the show, but I could be having the worst day of my life, where everything’s going wrong, and when that number starts, and you see the audience on their feet up and dancing and singing along, and it always, without fail puts me in a good mood,” Sklar says.
And while Gardner is also a sucker for a big finish, she is partial to the ballad that put Bon Jovi on the pop music charts.
“I love doing “Dead or Alive,” it’s all around fun and the audience loves it so much,” says Gardner. “They really feel comfortable with the interactive nature of the show by the time we get to that number and, for me, the energy is mesmerizing.”
Local trivia buffs will be interested to know this fun fact: Restaurateur Chuck Rolecek, who established the Hanover Street Chophouse, is not only a superfan of this particular musical, but was one of the show’s original Broadway producers.
Audiences familiar with this show will get nothing but the good time they expect, and more, says Sklar. And those who have yet to experience “Rock of Ages” on stage should come, expecting one of the most memorable live-theatre productions imaginable.
“About two-thirds of the cast from 2016 is returning, so for us, it’s been a blast rehearsing. We still talk about how surprised we were on opening night, that the audience was so enthralled and singing along with every number,” says Sklar. “It becomes a fun party and a fun evening out. This is a good show to come see, especially if your vision of theatre to this point is one where you only applaud at the end of a show. For this one, you’re part of the action.”
There are 16 scheduled performances of “Rock of Ages” at The Palace Theatre, Jan. 12 – Feb. 3. Tickets are $25 for children (6-12); and $39-$46 for adults. There is no official rating system for live theatre. As always The Palace encourages the public to use discretion based on your child’s age and maturity level for attendance.