The Rock of Ages burns down the house in Al-Misbah Theatre

At the risk of sounding like a gatekeeper or anti-union, I was horrified last summer when Equity announced its plan and paid all actors across the country to join unions, granting Equity membership to anyone seeking it. This appears to be an existential threat to the “semi-professional theaters” so prevalent in Pennsylvania: community theaters are technically by definition, but most are non-union working professional actors and pay at least a salary to the performers. Several of my favorite companies fall into this mold or use a hybrid model to group fair and non-union actors together: St. Vincent’s Summer Theatre, Main Stage, Right Theater (Greensburg and Pittsburgh companies, unrelated), Westmoreland for the Performing Arts and Split Stage. Fortunately, the sky didn’t fall: a number of deserving and hardworking actors joined unions faster than they would otherwise, but the majority of semi-professional actors and theaters were unscathed.

Split Stage, one such company, has continued to bring more modern or less productive shows to Westmoreland County. Although it is difficult to communicate rock of ages, who had a moving image and is now a perennial high school musician, and, less prolific, fits the company’s brand well. Comedian Chris Darienzo’s share of an extremely parody of musicals is still the best musical script by a long shot.

The plot, overly complex by design, parodies ’80s comedies with a stream of ruthlessly brutal “Let’s Save the Place” cliché. Rocker Wannabe Drew (Gabe DeRose) doesn’t seem to be falling in love with nubile waitress Sherry (Raegan Hochmann), while German real estate developer Hertz (Hank Fodor) and his androgynous son Franz (Caleb Vigels) attempt to transform the Sunset Strip. In a strip mall. Mix it all together with a cast of colorful characters like a hairy metal rock god (Michael David Stoddard), a social reformer (Claire Ivy Stoller) and a pair of messy bisexual club owners (Josh Reardon and Bill Elder).

Directed by company founders Nate Newell and Rob Jessup, the show is a wicked good time: loud, silly, sexy, and dumb in a clever way. (Much of this is due to production, but a lot of it is just baked rock of ages As a show the actor’s proof is almost in how narrow its concept is.) The cast is packed with local favorites from a number of companies: Stage Right, Theater Factory, Greensburg Civic, PMT, and a number of additional companies are all represented within the cast. This is a good sign, because the sometimes fragmented split between smaller theater companies has shown evidence of healing in the past few years. As a main couple, Gabe DeRoses and Raygan Hochman have great vocals and a totally upbeat dead-end; A lot of the humor in the show revolves around these two characters and you never realize they’re silly, cliched, or silly. Josh Reardon and Bill Elder came close to stealing the show as a pair of rock ‘n’ roll stoner brothers who seem to be in an open relationship with each other. And, of course, Courtney Harkins, who last year’s BroadwayWorld Pittsburgh was chosen as Pittsburgh-area artist of the year, rocks the house with her famous voice as the owner of Justice’s strip club.

But if anyone really owns this production, it’s Michael David Stoddard as Stacey Jax. Essentially a parody of Brett Michaels’ cult and self-seriousness, Jaxx is the tacky all-’80s rock star in one. He played too straightforward in the Broadway production, while Tom Cruise infamously played a really crazy version of the character in the movie version. Stoddard directs her into the middle of the two interpretations, leaning toward a gritty, grotesque, and self-deprecating pathos that can only be described as “Will Forte-like.” Time and time again, the rock star’s sex god mask slips, and the strange little man beneath him reaches his climax, until the end when the facade is blown up and we see Stacee Jaxx in all his pathetic glory. Let’s also give a shout-out to broadcast presenter Emily Kane in the secondary role of reporter Constance; Whereas the usually shortened Constance scene is played as a bimbo and sex-hungry musician intrigued by the presence of Stacey Jax, Kane is instead played by the ruthless influence of Daria, completely unmoved by Jaxx’s nonsense and sex appeal. It’s not just a waiver of the MeToo era, it’s probably even more entertaining.

I do not know for sure whether any liberties have been seized for modern sensibilities, or whether the text has been modified over time; The original version contains some jokes that are considered racist or transphobic in today’s culture. Most of this content has been dropped from this production. (Likewise, nearly every production officially makes Lonnie and Dennis a couple, while the original theatrical show lines up as “no homo” as possible with a gag-are-or-not-they run.) That doesn’t mean the show has good taste. But he’s now at least a parody of hypersexuality and misogyny—especially Sherri’s character, who if we’re not laughing at the music video and sassy ’80s movies she embodies and scorns, might be the offensive archetype of a “blonde dumb bitch.” rock of ages Excels when he sets up these archetypes and then knocks them down with a sledgehammer of comedy, and the production of Split Stage is the crew of shattering the entire musical scene.

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