For something so deeply rooted in the 1980s, Rock of Ages seems awfully timeless. With its big hair, bombastic songs and love stories, the musical has been everywhere from Broadway to the silver screen, and through Nov. 4, Oklahomans can experience its magic at Lyric at the Plaza, 1727 NW 16th St.
Set against the backdrop of 1980s Los Angeles nightclubs, Rock of Ages follows Drew Boley (played by Derrick Medrano) and Sherrie Christian (played by Lauren Urso) as they try to find love and recognition in the City of Angels. The musical also addresses gentrification, as city officials and property developers try to close down the main hub of music and romance — The Bourbon Room — and, consequently, threaten to forever change the lives of local performers.
Rock of Ages features music by Styx, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Foreigner and Joan Jett, among others, living up to its name and the large catalogue of culturally influential music made during the ’80s.
For director Ashley Wells, part of the musical’s appeal lies in its music, especially for people who came of age during the decade. When planning Lyric’s fall 2017 season, Wells said she wanted to direct the show.
“I am a product of the ’80s,” she said. “I love the music.”
Even as the musical sparks nostalgia for a bygone time, Wells said it also introduces its songs to a younger generation.
“It’s kind of fun to have this show be the way that younger audiences will remember the song,” Wells said.
For Urso, the musical’s songs present a compelling narrative interpretation and reveal cunning wordplay.
“My character’s name is Sherrie, and Drew sings a song called, ‘Oh Sherry,’” Urso said. “The music fits so seamlessly with the storyline. … It doesn’t feel like a typical kitschy jukebox musical.”
And while Rock of Ages certainly draws liberally on its musical heritage, Wells said her production will also take visual cues from another cultural remnant of the ’80s: the music video.
“The songs, they were a story,” Wells said. “That’s what we grew up with: each band coming up with their own ideas and their wacky thinking about their songs.”
Wells said she has had cast members watch music videos online in order to become familiar with the era’s distinct looks and production qualities.
“It’s really fun. It’s almost like a history lesson because there are so many references,” said Lauren Urso. “I know the major ones, but they sprinkle in so many smart little jabs.”
While the original Broadway production included projections and video elements, Wells said her approach will recall music videos by weaving scenes together and through specific choreographic elements.
Recognizably ’80s aesthetics will also figure largely in the costumes, wigs, lighting and set design, according to Wells.
“We wanted to create the Plaza Theatre as if you’re walking into The Bourbon Room,” Wells said. “Hopefully, when you walk in, you’re going to feel like you’re already in the bar.”
The live band (whose members will also be outfitted with big ’80s wigs) will also be front and center, Wells said.
Given its earnest and unabashed homage to everything ’80s, Rock of Ages also keeps itself from sappiness through self-referential nods to the structuring of the musical itself.
Lonny Barnett (played by Gregory DeCandia), a co-owner of The Bourbon Room, also performs the de facto role of narrator, offering commentary about the musical throughout the show.
According to Urso, Lonny invites the audience “into this crazy world” by repeatedly breaking the fourth wall.
In one of the show’s most self-aware moments, Lonny says that, although he’s “no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim,” he knows that the musical requires a love story.
“It’s poking fun at itself and what the ’80s were but doing it in a very heartfelt and sincere way,” Wells said.
Further blurring the lines between past and present, real and performed, Rock of Ages also comments on the necessity of places where people can gather to sing, perform and be themselves.
“You have these different bars and places… Just a place that people can go and work out their craft,” Wells said. “It’s kind of like what the Plaza and Lyric Theatre have become to the district and 16th Street.”
While the musical is set in Los Angeles and features larger-than-life characters such as aging rock star Stacee Jaxx and his band Arsenal, it’s not ultimately about fame, Wells said.
Rather, the musical focuses on the complexities of true love and achieving one’s dreams in perhaps unexpected ways.
“When you strip it down, it’s finding love and what you want your life to be,” Wells said. “Our two characters are in LA for one reason, but they end up finding something else that makes them happier.”
Planning — rather than trying to predict — the future seems to be the implicit message of Rock of Ages.
“Even though you are going after what you think is your dream, you could take a fork in the road, but it takes you to where you really want to be in the end,” Wells said.
Tickets are $25-$62. Visit lyrictheatreokc.com or call 405-524-9312.
Rock of Ages
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 4
Lyric at the Plaza | 1727 NW 16th St.
lyrictheatreokc.com | 405-524-9312
print headline: Ageless Rock, Hopes, dreams and hair — Lyric Theatre brings ’80s fever to Oklahoma City with Rock of Ages.