The Broadway hit musical Rock of Ages is back, and in perhaps its truest form yet. The story takes place on the Sunset Strip, and producers of a new, immersive Hollywood production have recreated The Bourbon Room, the venue at the center of the show, on Hollywood Boulevard. Audience members can enjoy cocktails and food throughout the performance, and a pre-show experience offers further opportunities to become involved in the 80s jukebox musical. The more informal setting feels perfect for this show, which was always just a little bit silly for Broadway and feels right at home in a rowdier atmosphere where guests are encouraged to rock out right along with the cast.
When you arrive at The Bourbon Room, there are multiple ways to interact with the actors before the performance begins. You can get a “tattoo” (temporary, of course) or a “fake ID,” or simply explore the stylish space, which also includes a separate bar open to the public that was hosting a night of live piano music following the performance attended for this review. The seating configuration is reminiscent of a larger Rockwell Table & Stage, another Los Angeles venue known for unique musical productions. Table service continues throughout both acts of the show to keep the booze flowing with a full bar and a selection of themed specialty cocktails. There is hardly a bad seat in the house as the actors frequently move around the space, creating quite the party atmosphere.
For those who are unfamiliar, Rock of Ages ran on Broadway for six years before closing in 2015. Featuring music by Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Steve Perry, Poison, and more, it also inspired a poorly received film adaptation in 2012. But, more importantly, the musical made its world premiere back in 2005 in Los Angeles in a club venue on Hollywood Boulevard, making this new production a true homecoming. The story follows a fledgling romance between Sherrie Christian (understudy Marisa Matthews at the performance reviewed), an aspiring actress and singer fresh off the bus from the midwest, and Drew (Ian Ward), a barback and wannabe rockstar. Their love story is complicated by an incident involving Stacee Jaxx (Sean Lessard), a problematic rocker known as one of the “most unreliable men in the music industry,” as well as efforts by the city of Los Angeles to demolish The Bourbon Room. A father and son pair of German developers, Hertz Klinemann (Pat Towne) and his son, Franz (Frankie Grande, who appeared in the Broadway production) want to clean up the “seedy” strip, and they clash with activist and city planner Regina (Stephanie Renee Wall). Rounding out the cast are Dennis (Tony Award Nominee Nick Cordero) as the owner of The Bourbon Room and Lonny (Matt Wolpe), his assistant who also serves as the narrator of the frequently fourth-wall-breaking show.
The high caliber of talent in both the cast and the band truly enhances this fun experience. Wolpe steals every scene he’s in, and at one point Ward held a note so long the audience broke into mid-song applause. Matthews brings an endearing, charismatic quality to Sherrie, and Lessard draws many laughs as the simultaneously hilarious and cringe-worthy Stacee Jaxx. Grande, arguably the most famous face in the show, also does not disappoint, particularly on his surprising act two rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Directed by Kristin Hanggi, the performance remains very energetic throughout. If anything, there is a bit more to be squeezed out of the unique venue and “immersive” nature of the performance. Audience interaction mostly consists of a few targeted comments from Lonny and occasionally waving provided plastic lighters in the air during the ballads, and given the vibe of the crowd, even more opportunities to feel a part of the story would have been welcome. Music director Jon Quesenberry and music supervisor David Gibbs have done a great job configuring the harmonies for the unconventional space, and Kelly Devine’s choreography is spirited and fun, particularly on the grand finale to, of course, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
The thing that makes outside-the-box theater experiences like this so appealing and, hopefully, successful is that they target an audience broader than your typical Los Angeles theatergoer. Rock of Ages Hollywood offers not just a musical, but a fun night out and an experience, and I would expect to see it continue rocking The Bourbon Room for a long time.
Rock of Ages Hollywood is currently in an open-ended run at The Bourbon Room (6356 Hollywood Blvd, 2nd Floor). There are 6 shows weekly from Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets start at $89 and can be purchased here, and discounts are available for groups of 8 or more. More information is available on the website.