Those who grew up in the MTV age can get ready to rock their way through the summer as Millbrook Playhouse presents the playhouse premiere of “Rock of Ages,” Broadway’s homage to the wilder side of the 1980s. Complete with live rock band and a “We’re Not Gonna Take It” attitude, “Rock of Ages” runs July 29 through Aug. 7 on the Ryan Main Stage.
Written by Chris D’Arienzo, the musical features some of the ’80s greatest hits from Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Styx, Bon Jovi, Journey and others. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “We Built This City,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and many other rock classics are used to tell the story of Drew, an aspiring rocker, and Sherrie, a small town girl with big dreams, as they conquer Los Angeles in the 1980s.
Returning for his second season and serving as director is Robert Schneider, with Courtney Laine Self as choreographer and Justin Adams as the production’s musical director and conductor. The cast of many is led by Rachel Marie Snyder as Sherri, Christopher Lee Viljoen as Drew and Chas Conacher as Stacee Jaxx.
“Rock of Ages” is immersed in the 1980s rock scene, so in order to prepare, Schneider listened to song after song from the era.
“I would also go to the library and read just about every magazine and book on this period, plus watch countless music videos,” he said. “So many of our actors were born after this period that I wanted to make sure I could accurately explain this decade.”
Viljoen said he is a lot like his character in many ways — from the music to the way he carries himself.
“Drew is an incredible rocker who doesn’t really subscribe to the ‘sex and drugs’ part of ’80s rock, but more the rock ’n’ roll,” Viljoen said. “He believes in music and the power of performance. All he wants to do is perform songs like ‘Oh Sherrie’ and ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You.’ ”
Snyder plays Sherrie, a sweet, young, determined actress who leaves her home in Paola, Kan., to pursue her acting dreams on the Sunset Strip. She is intelligent, optimistic and persistent. She won’t let anything stand in the way of her dreams.
“I relate so much to her passion, drive and optimism — and her struggles with love and success are universal,” Snyder said.
“Rock of Ages” is truly unique, utilizing 1980s rock for the entire score.
“These songs are all familiar, but you experience them in an entirely new way as they manifest into a beautiful, quirky, hilarious story,” Snyder said.
Performing on the Ryan Mainstage at Millbrook provided a uniquely wonderful space that allows the audience to be close to the action, Schneider said.
“Because of that, unlike other productions, we wanted the audience to feel immersed in the story as soon as they got out of their cars,” he said. “So, as soon as they walk into the theater, there will be many surprises in store for them!”
For “Rock of Ages,” it is Schneider’s hope that audiences will be taken away from 2016 and can celebrate a time that was filled with endless optimism.
“My hope is that they will take the optimism they get from the show and spread it around in their daily lives,” he said. “No matter your age, it’s important that we don’t stop believing.”
Viljoen believes “Rock of Ages” will take the audience back to the 1980s, as it will have the feel of a rock concert.
“We have a full rock band on stage incorporated in the story and rocking out with all of the characters of the show,” he said. “I hope they sing along and have a great time as this era of music is so iconic.”
“I hope that audiences laugh hard and lose themselves in the fantasy rock world we create,” Snyder said. “I hope they leave with a renewed sense of hope and determination, and a song in their head — because these rock songs stay with you.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Millbrook Playhouse’s “Rock of Ages”
- When: July 29-Aug. 7
- Where: Millbrook Playhouse, Ryan Main Stage, 258 Country Club Lane, Mill Hall
- Info: www.millbrookplayhouse .net