Review: ‘Rock of Ages’ at the Apollo Civic Theatre

Get ready to rock out at the Apollo Civic Theatre with a rocking and energetic production of Rock of Ages!

With a book by Chris D’Arenzo and orchestrations and arrangements by Ethan Popp, this jukebox musical features thirty memorable hits from the 1980s. When small town girl Sherrie arrives in L.A, she has big dreams of becoming a star. She quickly meets and falls in love with another aspiring rock star, Drew. However, plans from a development to destroy their club on the Sunset Strip and a rival rock star for Sherrie’s affections threaten to rip the rocking romance apart!

Rock of Ages features incredible direction from Amanda Hartman, assisted by James Wright.The entire show features an infectious energy and outstanding unique individual choices. The music direction by Jeff Wine on the 80’s rock songs and ballads was excellent and the production featured an awesome live rock band onstage who also doubled as the fictional band in the story.

Justin Lowans and THE female ensemble. Photo by Adam Blackstock.
Justin Lowans and THE female ensemble. Photo by Adam Blackstock.

Justin Lowans displays a powerful vocal range as lead wanna-be rock star, Drew. Lowans effortlessly sustained some wickedly impressive high notes on his big rock numbers, especially “Oh Sherrie” and “Don’t Stop Believin’ .” Lowans also did an excellent job showing the softer, romantic side of the rough rock star.

Eliza Windle is wonderfully quirky and cute as the female lead, Sherrie. Windle displayed some exceptionally confident and sexy dance moves and equally strong rock vocals, especially during “Here I Go Again.”

Colt Smith masters comedic timing and over-the-top delivery as the club owner, Dennis Dupree. His performance in “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was laugh out loud hysterical.

Denise O’Brien is hilariously strong willed and powerful as the city development protester, Regina. O’Brien had some wonderfully quirky moments, especially in her repeats of the number “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

As the German father and son city planners, Hertz Klinemann and Franz Klinemann, Larry Marcille, and Dustin McQuaid made an exceptional comedy duo. Marcille’s accent was impeccable and he provided a great performance as a stern father. However, McQuaid stole every scene he was in with his hilariously flamboyant antics and his number “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” left the audience in stitches.

John Glymph is exceptionally over-the-top as the villain, the sleazy rock star Stacee Jaxx. Glymph did an excellent job of making the character hysterical and lovable even as he acted like a complete ass, which was an impressive balance.

Holly Legg displays some powerful soulful vocals as strip club owner, Justice. Alan Harner is outrageous in a dual character role as Ja’Keith and the Mayor, and his opening scene as the Mayor was hysterical. James Miller is consistently amusing as the fabulously flamboyant rocker Joey Primo.

Natasha Fields, Tiffany Leighton, and Caitlin Cutright form a great female ensemble of waitresses and strippers. The choreography, also by Hartman and assisted by Fields, Windle, and Wright, was crisp and energetic for all the full ensemble numbers, but typically featured the ensemble women with some complicated routines displaying impressive flexibility and agility.

Keith Shifflett. Photo by Adam Blackstock.
Keith Shifflett. Photo by Adam Blackstock.

However, out of the colorful cast of over-the-top rocker characters, Keith Shifflett stole the show as rocker narrator Lonny. His improvised interactions with the audience were completely natural and easygoing, and many of his one-liners were laugh out loud hilarious. Shifflett quickly became the audience favorite, clearly demonstrated during the popping opening number “Just Like Paradise/Nothin’ but a Good Time.” Shifflett’s duet with Colt Smith, “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” was one of the highlights of the production.

An effective element to the jukebox musical is the clever writing style. The characters frequently break the fourth wall and reference the fact that they are characters in a musical, with some hysterical theater “in-jokes” and very tongue-in-cheek references to local productions and theaters. Rock of Ages also features some very unique arrangements and combinations of 80’s hits, with added harmonies.

Another awesome feature in the production was the use of a giant projection screen at the top of the set. Locations and backdrops were projected at first, and as the show progresses, even the technology adds to the humor, as some hilarious pictures and messages pop up with exceptional timing, sometimes even as a visual punchline to jokes.

Denise O'Brien and the ensemble. Photo by Adam Blackstock.
Denise O’Brien and the ensemble. Photo by Adam Blackstock.

Though the live band onstage and singers in the production both rocked out, there were several sound issues throughout the performance. Whenever the band played their underscoring music while characters onstage had dialogue, it was extremely difficult to hear the dialogue occurring.I am confident these issues will be resolved before the next performance.

Costumes, designed by Barbie Gross and provided by the cast, are colorful and clear 80’s fashions. The wigs used, particularly for the men, helped instantly convey the 80’s rock look. The set, designed by Jeff Marcum, is a multi-leveled nightclub set with a platform upstage center for the live rock band. The use of platforms and different levels in the club assisted with many of the comedic antics. Lighting by Mike Noll, Amanda Hartman, and Rebecca Hutchcraft, add a great deal to the rock concert effect, especially during the performance scenes in the night club and the strip club.

For a rocking performance featuring some side-splitting hilarious performers and the ultimate energetic musical experience, check out Rock of Ages at the Apollo Civic Theater.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

The cast of 'Rock of Ages.' Photo by Adam Blackstock.
The cast of ‘Rock of Ages.’ Photo by Adam Blackstock.

Rock of Ages plays through October 2, 2016, at the Apollo Civic Theatre – 128 East Martin Street, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. For tickets, call the box office at (304) 263-6766, or purchase them online.

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  1. I went to see this show on Oct 1st and had a fabulous time. The music was great, the actors/actresses were amazing and I loved how they interacted with the audience.

    I looked forward to all the characters being featured on stage as the story progressed, especially Colt Smith’s and Keith Shifftlet’s characters. Everyone had something very special about them that made them stand out, even “Waitress #1” :-)

    Justin Lowans and Eliza Windle were really great together vocally and seemed very natural and comfortable with each other. Justin’s locals were amazing (especially hitting all those crazy 80’s tunes notes) and I enjoyed watching Eliza dance along with her singing. They made great lead performers.

    The entire ensemble did so well together! It was truly a good time. Thanks for putting on a great show!


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