Main Street’s newest ballad: ‘Rock of Ages’
Jun 22, 2017 11:34AM ● Published by Travis Barton
The guitar used by Eric Williams during the musical, decorated with signatures and drawings from the cast. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
Gallery: Main Street’s newest ballad: ‘Rock of Ages’ [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
1987 called, and wants you to know it’s in Midvale.
The musical “Rock of Ages” played at the MidvaleMain Street Theatre June 8-24. The show revolves around The Bourbon Room, a local club along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip under threat of redevelopment, and its employees aspiring toward their dreams.
“I have to admit I was in tears,” Director and theatre owner Tammy Ross told the cast after the opening night performance. “I don’t normally cry until the end of the run, but you guys really blew me away tonight.”
Set in 1987, the show featured famous classic rock songs of the ’80s like “I Wanna Rock,” “Can’t Fight this Feeling,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,’” to name a few.
“For me it exceeded expectations,” said Jeremy Heaps, who plays various roles in the show. “It’s just been a show up until tonight when it turned into a rock concert.”
Kassandra Torres, who plays Constance Sack added she expected to have a positive experience considering her last stint at the theatre.
“I thought that was as good as it gets you know, but I didn’t anticipate how phenomenal this cast is, how phenomenal this show is and how great it all turned out,” she said.
I wanna rock (to live music)
Utilizing a live band on stage to play all the songs marks the first time in five years Ross has done a show with live music.
The band was made up of a piano (Hannah Bayles), drums (Cameron Kapetanov), bass (Anthony Sailer) and guitar (Jacob Lambros) with Eric Williams, who plays club owner Dennis Dupree, occasionally filling in as a second guitarist and saxophonist. The band remains on stage the entire show and at times serves as cast members.
“I love being on stage. I feed off the audience and they feed off of us,” Sailer said. “It’s a rock concert with a little bit of acting.”
The live aspect provides unique challenges for cast and band members as the band takes its cues from the actors along with finding the sound level balance between the instruments and vocals.
“It’s this choreographed ballet of music that makes it a little bit more difficult than if we were just playing the music,” Kapetanov said. The band’s compilation of members and rehearsals happened only weeks prior to the show’s start.
“The band is amazing, seriously they are incredible,” said Danny Eggers, who plays narrator and Bourbon Room employee Lonny.
Eggers said the live music is one of the “challenges and blessings of the show.” Typically shows employ a recorded track which doesn’t change, but a live band can give actors more liberty.
“Enjoying the benefits of the live band while also making the product that gives the audience the consistency that a track would have was kind of a challenge for this show,” he said.
Ben Brinton, who plays famous rock star Stacee Jaxx, said he was enthusiastic with the dice roll Ross took having live music.
“Suddenly there’s a whole new layer of creativity,” he said. “It’s more than just being loud, you want the audience to feel things, you want certain elements to be theatrical. Those are these really kind of sophisticated choices that I don’t think the audience in general really pay attention to.”
We built this city (with healthy vocals and limited time)
The Midvale Theatre completed its youth production of “Legally Blonde Jr.” only three and a half weeks prior to opening “Rock of Ages.” It gave set designer Sean McLaughlin a shortened timeframe to recreate a 1980’s Hollywood bar with a portable toilet-style bathroom he built.
“I just about died,” said McLaughlin who—along with everyone else involved with the show—has a full-time job and was also preparing a show at the Hale Theatre.
McLaughlin said he wanted the set to be a yearbook for the cast. Walls and props were adorned with things written by cast members including signatures and drawings on Williams’s sanded down guitar.
Cassidy Ross, who plays small town girl Sherry Christian, directed the youth show and had to overcome a polyp growth in her throat requiring her to be on vocal rest for almost three weeks.
“Vocal health was very important or you die,” she said.
It’s why Jake Holt, who plays aspiring rock star Drew, spends almost an hour in his car warming up his voice and massaging his throat, jaw muscles and head. That in addition to constant hydration all day long, taking vocal pastilles to relieve throat irritation and swearing off alcohol during the show’s run.
“These rock songs are brutal,” Ross said.
Hit me with your best shot (and dance moves)
For Taylor Lawrence, who plays exuberant protest organizer Regina, the show was just “the tip of the iceberg.”
“That’s what you think is the hard part. For me it was the rehearsal process building up not only your vocal stamina, but your physical stamina,” Lawrence said.
The show includes multiple choreographed dance numbers with majority of the cast on stage. Lawrence said the physical preparation they went through from choreographer Alexandira Zinov, was essential to a quality show.
Cast members noted how Zinov could choreograph to their abilities and instill confidence.
“It’s definitely fun for me to see it all come together with the choreography,” Zinov said. “The blocking, the music, the band, the set, everything. It’s amazing and I’ve loved watching them grow.”
Those dance moves could be seen backstage too. With a 25-member cast and limited space backstage, Heaps said it often required “Matrix moves” to avoid running into one another.
Cassidy—who due to her character’s extensive wardrobe changes requires a three-person team to change her—had to avoid being clotheslined by a chain during one rehearsal.
Don’t stop believin’ (no matter your age)
“Rock of Ages” aims to capture the era of the ’80s and its iconic music. Many will be able to identify the musical’s 20-plus tunes. Audience members could be heard singing along and igniting their lighters during the show on opening night.
“The music lends itself to this communal guilty pleasure,” Brinton said. “There’s not a single person who won’t be able to (say), ‘Oh I know this song.’”
But it also, as Christian Earl who plays Joey Primo noted, creates a lot of pressure on them to manifest the time period when Styx, Foreigner and Twisted Sister were performing.
“It’s so nostalgic for people, a lot of them have lived through this era. I think there’s a lot of pressure to really immerse the crowd and draw the audience in,” Earl said.
In a generation spanning cast from high schoolers to baby boomers, a few truly did live through the era. One of them was Williams, a musician at Keys on Main in downtown Salt Lake City who underwent his first experience as an actor in a musical.
Williams was precast for the club owner role almost a year in advance by Ross, something she rarely ever does.
“I don’t think there’s another person I know…that would’ve been a more amazing Dennis Dupree,” Ross said.
While millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers were all featured in the cast, the process of creating the show bonded them whether it was through the music or introducing Williams to his first laser tag adventure.
It’s an experience Williams is not likely to forget.
“These people are amazing,” he said of the cast and crew. “To take on just some old musician and take me under their wing…I could not have asked for a better experience.”
Williams continued, “It’s hard to explain what I’ve learned from these kids. It’s not about money, not about fame, this is who we are. This show talks about being dreamers, we’re dreamers.”
In a musical that sees actors speak to the audience and sing while back stage, it’s helped the actors like Jim Dale—who plays German Developer Hertz Klineman—feel what it’s like to be in a rock show.
“In this show I’m the old fart and I even felt like a rock star in my suit and tie. It was so cool,” said Dale, whose better known around the theatre as “Jim F------ Dale.”
The rock show will continue through June 24 and with how Ross felt about the opening night performance, she’s excited for what’s to come.
“I think by the end of the run,” she said, “it’s going to be more than any of us can even imagine."