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Rock of Ages turns it up to 11 in a hymn to the era of excess

April 30, 2024

Are you ready to rock? Hardcore audiences squeeze into their acid-washed jeans to worship the loud and proud ’80s.

Kale Penny, Mariah Campos and Aaron Walpole in front of the Rock of Ages background.

Kale Penny (Drew Boley), Mariah Campos (Sherrie Christian) and Aaron Walpole (Lonny Barnett) can't fight this feelin’ of nostalgia in the hair metal musical Rock of Ages.

Come on, feel the noise
Girls, rock your boys
We’ll get wild, wild, wild
Wild, wild, wild

"Cum on Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot

Raucous jukebox musical Rock of Ages is a loud love letter to the decade of big hair, shredded guitar chords, and irreverent attitudes. Directed by Drayton Entertainment’s Artistic Director Alex Mustakas, the rowdy romp is at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse from May 8 to June 1, before letting rip at King’s Wharf Theatre from June 6 to June 30.

Set in 1987 at the height of glam rock, the show was written in the mid-2000s by Chris D’Arienzo, with music arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp. Featuring a track list of more than 30 headbanging hits – including “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “We Built This City,” “The Final Countdown,” and “I Want To Know What Love Is” – Rock of Ages is like a gold record for a period that lives on in the memories of its hardcore audience.

The A-side focuses on the romance between dreamer Drew Boley and rock chick Sherrie Christian, who leave their small hometowns in search of stardom, while the B-side is a riff on the loss of L.A.’s historic landmarks to gentrification.

Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio, don’t you remember?
We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll

"We Built This City" by Starship

With over-the-top fashions and chest-thumping classic rock anthems, the 1980s was not a time for subtlety, and both feature prominently in Rock of Ages, say the cast.

“My favourite thing about the ’80s is definitely the music,” says Kale Penny, who plays Drew and was born as the decade was fading out. “Tons of great rock and roll, but specifically, in this show, glam metal, big hair, big makeup, high, loud, and proud.”

Mariah Campos is Sherrie, the small town girl living in a lonely world, and she points out that both the character she plays and her own mother had a hair-raising time during the era of excess. “When I think about it, my mom always likes to remind me of how she used to wear her hair in the ’80s. If you come to see the show, in act two Sherrie gets a little bit of a redo with her hair, and it’s quite cute.”

Aaron Walpole plays Lonny Barnett, manager of Hollywood bar “The Bourbon Room”, and also the show’s omnipotent narrator. Walpole is old enough to recall the era firsthand, including some regrettable fashion choices. “I actually grew up in the ’80s, so I had the mullet,” he says. “Business on top and party in the back. That went to a rat’s tail with the buzz cut. The whole time, I wore a lot of spandex, which I really shouldn’t have, and crop-top football mesh jerseys, which gave me really weird suntans.”

I don’t know where I’m going
But I sure know where I’ve been
Hanging on the promises in songs of yesterday

"Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake

When it comes to playing Drew and Lonny, it’s a case of “Here I Go Again” for Penny and Walpole, who have both taken on the roles in previous Rock productions, most recently at Huron Country Playhouse last year.

“I love the show,” says Walpole. “I did the original Toronto production for Mirvish Productions. I studied the Broadway cast, and they flew me down there to check it out. I got to work with the actual creative team, the people who wrote the show and put it on its feet for the first time. I got a lot of really cool stories and history with that. I just love it, and I say yes all the time.”

Penny says, “The music is what keeps me coming back. This is my favourite kind of music to sing. It’s the stuff I grew up singing and how I found my voice, through this era.”

It’s also an encore for Campos. “I agree with everything you said, but also, for me, it was my first show out of school, and it kind of catapulted me into the industry,” she says.

She adds, “I love when people come to see the show, because they forget everything about their everyday life. They come in and just enjoy the show and enjoy some great music.”

Do you remember when we used to dance
And incidents arose from circumstance
One thing led to another, we were young
And we would scream together songs unsung

"Heat of the Moment" by Asia

Rock of Ages was reissued as a movie in 2012 – with a big-name lineup that included Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julianne Hough and Bryan Cranston – but it’s a show that really needs to be experienced live.

“Historically, this has really good bar sales compared to other shows, so you see some rowdy audience members for sure,” says Penny about Rock’s groupies.

Many of the people who attend have never seen a musical before, and he loves performing to a new audience. “I remember walking with my wife, we were both in Rock of Ages years ago, and a guy on a motorcycle rode by. He was like, ‘You guys were in Rock of Ages! I loved it!’ It was the last person you would think would be at the theatre, shouting at us from a motorcycle as he goes through an intersection. That was a highlight, for sure.”

Campos says, “We had a bus full of people come to one of our matinees, and everyone came dressed up in costume. They would stand up during every song and sing along with us.”

Walpole echoes the lyrics from the hit song by glam metal band Poison that opens Rock of Ages when he explains why the musical is so popular.

“People should come see the show because they’re gonna have nothin’ but a good time.”

Learn more about Rock of Ages:

King's Wharf Theatre

Rock of Ages

June 6 to June 30, 2024