Rock of Ages

Published: July 20th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Toronto cast of Rock of Ages

Most shows start by darkening the stage so the actors can take their places; this one begins by blinding you with light. With its unrelenting barrage of ear-splitting rock tunes, Mirvish’s production of Rock of Ages is a two-and-a-half hour assault on the senses – which means if you’re not a fan of Journey, Whitesnake, REO Speedwagon or other ‘80s rock bands, there’s not much else here for you except a bunch of scantily clad girls writhing around stripper poles and a gorgeously trashy Sunset Strip-era set.


The songs of Rock of Ages provide almost as much story exposition as the dialogue (much of which is spoken too fast to be intelligible), and many of the lyrics are drowned out by the music, so it helps if you’re up on your ‘80s-era hits. If not, the music is catchy and performed enthusiastically, but after awhile Rock of Ages begins to feel like a highlight reel of music video clips. Musicals are at their best when the songs complement or enhance aspects of the plot, and here, the flimsy narrative is basically an excuse to string together as many rock tunes as the director can pack into one show; after awhile, they kind of blend together.


The story revolves around wannabe rocker Drew (Yvan Pedneault) – who toils as a janitor in the seedy Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip – and innocent, small-town girl Sherrie (Elicia MacKenzie), who’s arrived in L.A. to become an actress. Despite an immediate mutual attraction, their romance hits an early snag when his nice-guy demeanour gives her the wrong impression (he accidentally refers to her as a “friend”), and then again when she falls for a hotshot rocker named Stacee Jaxx (Peter Deiwick).


There’s also a subplot about a German developer and his effeminate son who want to turn the Strip into a mall, and an activist named Regina (Josephine Rose Roberts) who starts protesting the cause. Despite her powerful set of pipes (best showcased in a rousing rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”), I found it a little hard to sympathize with her cause, considering they’re talking about replacing a bunch of seedy strip bars and clubs where people’s so-called “dreams” amount to nothing more than gyrating in a garter belt and fishnets for leering patrons.


To its great credit the musical doesn’t take itself seriously – in fact, the self-deprecating references become a little tiresome – but the script relies heavily on cheap penis jokes and lewd gestures for laughs. The acting also varies. As the Bourbon Room’s aging owner, Dennis, David W. Keeley is the only performer to bring any charisma to his or her role. Aaron Walpole as Lonny, the show’s narrator, talks to the audience a lot but doesn’t really connect; his smarmy line delivery and self-conscious attempts at physical humour are two of the most irritating things about the show. (Nonetheless, he and Keeley share a touching duet to “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” that had me crack a smile.)


MacKenzie and Pedneault are both adequate and they both have gorgeous voices, though MacKenzie is too sweet-looking to convincingly play a stripper in the second act. The show’s best moments are the intimate ones between the two, because with its overt displays of sexuality and steady stream of cranked-up tunes, Rock of Ages seems to be trying too hard. Still, the show is consistently upbeat and the audience I watched with ate it up; I just felt that with a sharper wit and a few strokes of originality, Rock of Ages would have been as enjoyable as its music.




Rock of Ages is now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. For more information, visit

Related articles: (stage, mirvish, rock of ages, elicia mackenzie, yvan pedneault, eighties music)

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