Review - Rock of Ages Totally Rocks the 1980s at the Merriam Theater

Rock of Ages roared – in a very literal sense - into Philadelphia’s historic Merriam Theater on Friday, June 14, 2013.

We Loved Rock of Ages “More Than Words” Can Say. Go See It This Week - It Closes Sunday, June 16!

Accordingly, the section headlines of my review of last night’s performance of Rock of Ages, will be written in the spirit and language of the year 1987, the year in which Rock of Ages was set… (The reference above is to the 1980s love song “More Than Words” by Extreme, which is in the show.)

Rock of Ages - The Grand Finale - Electrifying Entertainment, Everyone on Their Feet, Euphoria in the Theater

It’s highly atypical to begin a theatrical review with the finale, naturally. But the finale of Rock of Ages was highly atypical, in its own right.

Of course, we will yield no secrets about this spectacular finale, lest we lessen its impact.

We can say this much, though:

It would have been the worth the cost of admission, just to see the finale. Seriously.

The audience members were all on their feet, clapping and chanting with the cast, and it was an electrifying moment in the theater.

We’ve been to literally hundreds of live productions, both amateur and professional, and it was undoubtedly one of the best finales we’ve ever seen.

The finale was one of those occasions, when you recognize that movies and television can never truly replace live entertainment. No matter how talented the writers and actors on the screen may be at their respective crafts, they aren’t there with you, in person. During the Rock of Ages finale, it was one of those sequences, when you recognize how much you love live theater, and why it’s worth going to see.

Rock of Ages - A Synopsis – Like, What the Show Was About - There Was This Dude and This Babe, Who Had This Rad Romance On Stage… But, Like the Song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, I Won’t Give Away Any of the Important Stuff, To Ruin It For You Rock of Ages - The Cast And Band Were Awesome

The cast brought an energetic enthusiasm to the performance. While they were all outstanding performers, I’d like to give kudos in particular to the three leading actors:

Shannon Mullen, who played Sherrie, the female romantic lead; Dominique Scott, who played Drew, the male romantic lead; and Justin Colombo, as Lonny, the other male lead, who was the narrator during the show.

Shannon Mullen / Sherrie

Sherrie is a heartland native, who has arrived in LA, from a small town in her native Kansas (note the homage to The Wizard of Oz), with dreams of becoming a star. She arrives as an ingénue, but soon loses her innocence, immersing herself in the hedonistic Sunset Strip and performing in a risqué nightclub. Mullen was equally convincing as the ingénue and the performer, a difficult act to pull off. Her voice was dazzling as well.

Dominique Scott / Drew

Like Sherrie, Drew has arrived at the Sunset Strip – in his case, hoping to become a rock star. Like her, he has also come from the Midwest – but his Midwest is very dissimilar to her life in small-town Kansas. Drew hails from Detroit, Michigan – Detroit Rock City, the home of Motown, Ted Nugent (a/k/a “The Motor City Madman”), one of the great producers of musical talent in the nation. His voice rocked the house, and he was totally plausible as a rock singer.

However, it wasn’t just Scott’s voice. Drew is fundamentally a nice guy who meets a nice girl, and the audience can empathize with him as his feelings and affection for Sherrie eventually blossom from friendship into love. It’s a rare actor, who can credibly and simultaneously play an ‘80s rock frontman, and a nice guy seeking the girl he loves. Scott gave a superb performance as Drew.

Justin Colombo / Lonny

Lonny greets the audience in the beginning, and narrates the proceedings throughout. This is known in theatrical circles as “breaking the fourth wall” – i.e., turning toward the audience and directly addressing them as an audience, per se. Breaking the fourth wall is always a tricky maneuver, but Colombo was masterful with it last night. (One of our favorite lines, was when Lonny explains to Drew that “you’re in the musical Rock of Ages,” as Drew leafs through the official souvenir program for the show, being sold at the concession stand!)

Rock of Ages – If You’ve Seen the 2012 Movie Version, Be Prepared For Some Surprise Characters and Scenes Unique to the Stage Version!

The film version does not include everything in the stage version.  Most significantly, you will see some surprise characters and scenes.  In addition, some songs are moved from the beginning to the end and vice-versa.

Rock of Ages - The Music Made You Feel Like You Were Driving the DeLorean, with the Flux Capacitor, to Head Back to the Year 1987 (Two Years Later Than 1985!)

Accordingly, one of the cool, distinctive aspects of Rock of Ages, will be hearing songs with which you may be already quite familiar (regardless of whether you were even alive, during the 1980s), particularly if you’ve already seen the movie.  It’s a great jukebox musical, with a superb story, sky-high production values and an incredible cast performance.

And so, I extend my compliments to the authors, who deftly wove some of the greatest, adrenaline-pumping arena rock songs of the Reagan era, into a fast-paced comedy, with a classic love story at its heart.

Our personal favorites (excluding the finale, which we can’t give away):

“Any Way You Want It” – Journey

This song evokes, for anyone who has seen the classic 1980s film Caddyshack, the hilarious scene in which the late, great Rodney Dangerfield begins blasting the song from his specially equipped stereo golf bag (in comical breach of the etiquette of the sport). This seemed particularly fitting, given that the U.S. Open major golf tournament is at Merion Country Club, only a few miles away in Ardmore, this weekend for the first time in 32 years!  It was a real thrill to hear that song performed live in a Broadway show (and one which I never imagined I'd hear in that setting!)

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” – Twisted Sister

Never did I ever imagine that I would hear this anthem of defiance and rebellion (which would have equally suited the 1780s in Revolutionary France, as the 1980s in America) performed at the Merriam Theater. Dee Snider, the Philadelphia native who wrote the song, probably never imagined it, either!

“Oh, Sherrie” – Steve Perry

Of course, the writers deliberately named the female lead “Sherrie”, so that they could integrate this classic ‘80s love song into the show, for maximum comedic impact. And they were right to do so – the characters set it up with the dialogue, and the instant the audience heard the first notes, they recognized it immediately and began cheering!

Final Note to Parents: Find a Baby-Sitter – It Would Be Bogus and Inappropriate, to Take Your Kids To See Rock of Ages

As you can see from our rave review above, Rock of Ages has many positive aspects, but it is most decidedly not for children.

Much of the subject matter is based on adult themes such as strip clubs, and combined with a great deal of profanity and innuendo. Although the film version is rated PG-13, the stage version would absolutely receive an R rating as much of the profanity, etc., was removed from the movie.  The stage version of Rock of Ages is not suitable-for-all-ages family entertainment.

Rock of Ages - It’s Only Here for One Weekend, So Unless You Have Bill & Ted’s Phone Booth And Can Travel Through Time with Rufus, Book Your Tickets Now! Rock of Ages Opened Friday, June 14 and Closes Sunday, June 16!

Tickets ranging in price from $20 to $100 are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased by calling 215-731-3333, online at, at the Kimmel Center box office, Broad & Spruce Sts. (open daily 10 am to 6 pm) or at the Merriam Theater box office, 250 S. Broad St. (open during performances only). Groups of 10 or more will receive discounts for select performances by calling 215-790-5883 or 866-276-2947.  Performances include:  Friday & Saturday evening at 8:00 pm; Sunday evening at 6:30 pm; matinees Saturday at 2:00 pm and Sunday at 1:00 pm.

What does that mean? Basically, there are only five performances of Rock of Ages at the Merriam. And you’re reading the review of the first one, leaving you just four opportunities to time-travel back to the 1980s and still have a chance to eat dinner at a fine Philadelphia restaurant afterward. So order your tickets now!