Some theater shows are complex, meant to provoke deeper thought, compassionate action and social change.
“Rock of Ages,” which opens Friday night at the Alban Arts Center in St. Albans is not one of those shows. It’s meant to be nothing but a good time.
Director Marlette Carter said, “It’s probably the most fun show I’ve ever directed. It’s phenomenal.”
“Rock of Ages” is a Broadway juke box musical. It digs into the power ballads and hair metal hits of the 1980s and puts together a story about love in the time of big haired rock n’ roll.
“Rock of Ages” was a kind of secret show for the Alban Arts Center. Months ago, Adam Bryan — the manager/director of the theater — mentioned that they’d secured the rights to a show but weren’t allowed to reveal it right away.
“We’d been talking about wanting to do something that would be fun for the grownups to come see,” Carter explained. We were throwing around ideas and I was like, ‘You know what would be fun?’”
They checked with the licensing company and “Rock of Ages” was available. But there was a catch.
“We couldn’t talk about it. The show was still on the national tour,” she said.
They booked the show anyway and kept their mouths shut for months, until after the national tour made its stop at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center in Huntington back in April.
Carter said the Alban is excited to get to debut the show in the area.
“It’s got all the music,” she said. “There’s Poison, Whitesnake, Journey — all the good stuff.”
However, Carter added that the show isn’t for kids due to some language and adult situations. The musical is set in a bar and involves some seedier elements of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I’d say 13 or 14 years-old is fine, but not 6,” she said.
Carter said the show would be great for a date night or for a girls’ night out.
Stephen Hayward, who plays bad boy rockstar Stacee Jaxx in the musical, said, “What makes this different than some other musicals is that they’ve done a great job of integrating the songs into the story, so there’s not this show and then there’s this random song that doesn’t make sense.”
The 80s rock songs all move the plot and tell the story.
Hayward was a fan. He said when he lived in New York, he probably saw “Rock of Ages” four or five times.
“You hear about musicals where people are humming the songs when they leave. People are going to sing along to this. They already know the words,” he added.
Adding to the mix, “Rock of Ages” features an on-stage band, “Arsenal,” which accompany the actor/singers and also interact as members of the cast.
Music director Mark Scarpelli said, “This is an incredibly challenging show.”
Rock music is loud, and the challenge has been to balance the sound of two shredding electric guitars, an electric bass, keyboard and drums with the singers.
“We brought in Terry Moles, kind of a sound tech genius guy. He designed our sound system for this,” Scarpelli said.
Getting the sound right, getting the music right is key, Hayward said.
“‘Rock of Ages’ is different than other musical theater,” he said. “People already know these songs. We have to do them justice and people are going to know if we don’t sing Journey correctly.”
As performers, Hayward added, attempting to be faithful to the rock hits was a challenge because of the type of vocalists that dominated the music charts in the 1980s.
“All those 80s rock gods are high tenors,” he said. “It’s a real challenge to sing those songs, do them right and do them healthfully, so we’re not all blowing out our voices.”
Carter said the show has come together with few snags.
“We had a really busy season at the Alban — lots of bookings,” she said.
It’s a good problem to have, but Carter said it forced them to rehearse outside their theater for a while.
“We got some help from CYAC,” she said. “They let us use their theater in Elk City.”
The cast is anxious for opening night, particularly the band.
Scarpelli said, “We’ve been working on these songs for two months. We’re ready for an audience to play them for.”