As the Las Vegas production of the hit Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” celebrates its first anniversary Dec. 18, fans have come to embrace the fun-loving and excessive ’80s glam rock story of two young people from L.A.’s infamous Sunset Strip trying to make it big.
The show is stacked with classic ’80s rock hits such as “We Built This City,” “Sister Christian,” “I Wanna Rock,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Cum On Feel the Noize,” but beneath it all is the story of life. The lesson all of us learn eventually: that life doesn’t always go as planned.
The story revolves around Drew (Justin Mortelliti) and Sherrie (Carrie St. Louis), who fall in love while chasing their dreams to become a rock star and an actress, respectively. Drew, who works a menial job at the Bourbon Room, a rock club on the seedy Sunset Strip, meets Sherrie as she steps off the bus in Los Angeles for the first time (and is quickly mugged). He convinces Dennis (Troy Burgess), the owner of the Bourbon Room, to hire Sherrie as a waitress.
Love between Drew and Sherrie begins to bloom just as German developer Hertz and his son Franz (Robert Torti and Matt Meigs) push plans to redevelop the Sunset Strip into “clean living” by dumping the Strip’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. This, everyone soon learns, includes demolishing the Bourbon Room. Dennis decides to hire rock god Stacee Jaxx (Jon Robert Hall) and his band Arsenal (which performs live throughout the show) for a one-off performance that would raise enough money to save the rock bar.
But like all rock stars of the ’80s, just the mere presence of Stacee Jaxx, with his tight pants, big hair and even bigger ego, has the women swooning – including Sherrie. This is devastating to the love-sick Drew.
But all is not lost.
Although said at the end of the musical, the line delivered by “Rock of Ages’” narrator, the boisterous Lonny (Mark Shunock), that on the Sunset Strip, sometimes the dreams you enter with are not the dreams you leave with – but they still rock (cue: “Don’t Stop Believin’), it holds true throughout.
“(Drew) is moping, he’s sitting on the edge of the stage sad and I sort of get him back on track to chase after Sherrie before she gets back on the bus,” Shunock said.
His character, Lonny, tells Drew, “Boohoo. You think I got everything in life exactly how I wanted it!? You think anyone in this building has? I wanted to explore deep and thoughtful theater with complex characters and a challenging plot. Instead I was hired to narrate a show with ‘poop jokes’ and Whitesnake songs.”
A favorite scene of his, Shunock said it sums up his own journey as a Canadian hockey player turned actor.
“For a lot of people, too, the dreams you come in with aren’t the dreams you leave with,” he said. “Lives change and I think for us, the biggest thing for me is to allow people to come and see us for two hours and really escape what is happening in the real world, because sometimes, not everybody is having the best of times.”
For St. Louis, one of her favorite scenes in “Rock of Ages” is when Sherrie is talking with strip club owner Justice (Markesha McCoy). It’s then Sherrie realizes dreams change.
“I feel like it is the purpose of the whole show, even though it’s a silly ’80s rock show, it still has a beautiful story,” St. Louis said. “In that scene with Justice is when Sherrie realizes that not everything works out according to plan, she’s had her ups and downs, but life keeps moving on and you’ve got to keep going forward. So she leaves.”
The show, though, keeps the energy high, and the mood light.
“It’s just such a fun show and the music is so great,” St. Louis said. “It brings people back. A lot of people are nostalgic when they see (Rock of Ages). Even like down to the tiny details, like when Drew pulled out wine coolers for our date. There are just the smallest things all around that are just so quintessential to that time period and I think people love to rock out.”
The show has only grown in popularity since it opened a year ago at the Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip, he said.
“This show hasn’t slowed down at all in a year,” Shunock said. “In fact, it’s gone in the reverse. It’s gotten stronger and more attention, just because word of mouth now in Las Vegas. … It’s not your typical musical. You’d never believe how many guys come up to me after the show and say, ‘Dude I never thought I would have so much fun at a musical.’”
Vegas is the perfect spot for an over-the-top show like “Rock of Ages,” St. Louis said.
“”People come to Vegas to have a good time and that’s what we’re doing,” St. Louis said. “We’re basically providing a party that’s a show at the same time. Everyone’s on their feet dancing at the end. It’s just a perfect place for such a fun show.”
“Rock of Ages” is also a chance for the audience to leave behind reality, if only for a couple hours.
“When they come and see us, I think it’s important that we give them the opportunity to forget about what’s going on outside those theater doors,” Shunock said. ”I think it’s something that all of us at ‘Rock of Ages’ take pride in, because we do talk about it a lot, that the show is so much fun it allows people to forget about their problems and focus on having nothing but a good time.”