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Wednesday, August 12, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Review: ‘Rock of Ages’ lively, fresh-faced and fun

“Rock of Ages” at the Modern Theater Coeur d’Alene is more fun than it has any business being.

This silly show – a riff on the old “let’s save the theater and put on a show” trope – is a jukebox musical of 1980s American rock. Strung together with songs by Journey (“Don’t Stop Believing”), Whitesnake (“Here I Go Again”), Pat Benatar (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and REO Speedwagon (“Keep on Lovin’ You”), it tells the story of a young couple in love, an aging rock club, and the force of change.

Drew is our city boy, “born and raised in south Detroit,” to quote the Journey song. He works at the Bourbon Club in the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Sherrie, the small-town girl, is fresh off the bus from Kansas with dreams of Hollywood stardom. She finds herself at the Bourbon Room. Drew, instantly smitten, persuades the owner, Dennis Dupree, to hire her. Lonny, Dennis’ right-hand man, breaks the fourth wall on occasion to narrate the show.

This is all complicated when a German businessman and his son start buying up businesses on the Strip in order to bring clean, European-style living to the seedy section of L.A. Dennis, hoping to raise enough cash to save the club, offers to host the final show of Arsenal, a rock band fronted by Stacee Jaxx, who got his start at the Bourbon Room. There are all kinds of misunderstandings, miscues and hurdles thrown up along the way. And a protest plotline feels like it was included only as a means to introduce Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to the story.

When I saw the touring production of “Rock of Ages” a couple years ago, my reaction was lukewarm. The performances were OK, and the music, while not my favorite stuff, had high earworm potential. But it was pretty loud, and pretty bombastic. I don’t remember laughing all that much.

The Modern production, directed by George Green, is funnier somehow. The actors do a terrific job of milking every joke. It’s a lively production that carries a sense of fun and joy with it.

It’s also very well cast. As our young couple, Brendan Brady and Quinn Vaira are spot on. They’re fresh-faced and adorable, and both have the voices to match the songs. As Stacee Jaxx, Christopher Sweet is slimy and reptilian – he even moves like Axl Rose. Daniel McKeever, as Lonny, nearly steals the show. With a mullet that goes on for days and a booming voice, he makes quite an impression. Also good is Aubree Peterson as Regina, even if she’s saddled in the silly protest subplot.

A special shout-out to Zach Baker, the Modern’s music director. He leads a crack rock band in the show, and I appreciated the fact that I wasn’t blasted out of my seat. The sound levels were perfect, allowing the audience to enjoy the music and still hear the actors say their lines.

I admit I rolled my eyes when the Modern announced this show as the season opener. I really had no desire to see it again. However, this cast and crew pulled off a nifty night of entertainment. It ain’t “Les Mis,” but it certainly has its charms.

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