The 1980s was an era filled with big hair and even bigger dreams. Places like the Bourbon Room – the fictional nightclub in the new stage production, “Rock of Ages” at the Eldorado Resort Casino – were popping up in cities across America.
Big wigs, leather vests, spikes, chains, spandex and fishnets made up the costumes of the night. Rock music was the fuel that drove the dreams. Following an era of punk rock and disco, the time period was a time of change.
“The ’80s were a mixed bag of transition from the ’70s,” said Barry Singer, co-producer and founder along with Joe Miranda of the show’s production company, Jersey Shore Entertainment, which also produced the just-closed “Footloose” at the Eldorado. “There wasn’t a lot of inner meaning in a lot of the music coming out. It was more about having fun and getting down and having a boogie kind of time.
“That all changed in the 1980s. The songs are simple but with hard-driven chord structures, which included a campaign of how they were feeling. There were beautiful melodies and lyrics that were poetic. Writers were actually saying something in the lyrics.”
“Rock of Ages” is a 75-minute musical jukebox of a ride that’s filled with the sights, sounds and dreams of the 1980s nightclub scene. Based on the original Broadway production of the same name, “Rock of Ages” features a cast of 15 performers, a live five-piece band and songs from Foreigner, Poison, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Journey, Night Ranger and more.
“There was a thriving hard rock club scene during that time period,” Singer said. “These artists were able to develop a following. They didn’t just walk into a recording studio, cut records and become famous. They developed followings by actually performing live. They cut their teeth on the rock ‘n’ roll club scene. The Bourbon Room in the show is an example of how these groups came about.”
The Broadway show ran for 2,328 performances during six years before closing in 2015, making it the 27th-longest running show in the history of the New York theater district, Singer said.
“The songs from that era are becoming nostalgic-type songs,” Singer said. “There’s a large group of people who find the songs from the show remind them of their youth. The music was very melodic with good lyrics and a strong underlying musicality. The show is an inside look at the ‘80s club scene. It tries to capture the funkiness and the raw feeling of the nightclubs, which are what gave birth to that whole era.”
“Rock of Ages” chronicles the story of Drew Boley (played by Owen Beans), an aspiring rocker who works at the popular Bourbon Room as a busboy, and Sherrie Christian (Allison Foote), a blonde, blue-eyed dreamer hoping to make it as an actress in Hollywood. She gets hired as a waitress at the club and a friendship with Drew ensues.
But so, too, does conflict. Club owner Dennis Dupree (Charles Caruso) and his best friend/assistant Lonny Barnett (Andrew Sklar) learn early in the show that two German developers, Hertz Klinemann (Thomas Pope) and his son, Franz (Jacob Bivens) have convinced the city’s mayor to swap out its trademark “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle for a more modest clean-living way of life. That would also open the door for the developers to make a fistful of money, which they’re more than happy to share with the mayor.
So while Drew and Sherrie struggle to express their feelings for each other – as youngsters often do – Dupree and Lonny fight to save the beloved club from being torn down. The story is told to the audience through song, dance and dialogue.
“There’s a unique commentary about the 1980s in the dialogue that is very tongue-in-cheek with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll innuendo in it,” Singer said. “It’s comedic in its delivery with double entendres all over the place.”
Because the show does contain suggested sexual acts and drug use, along with some mild profanity, there’s a disclaimer that the show is meant for those 16 and older. But the show doesn’t glamorize the sex and drugs. The references are more like spices to flavor the dish that is “Rock of Ages.”
“It’s actually quite tame,” Singer said. “It touches on those areas but it’s like a Sweet 16 party in the way it treats it. It doesn’t glorify it. It makes fun of it. It makes it silly.”
Adding to the silliness factor is Lonny, who serves as the show’s guide.
“There’s really three Lonnies,” Sklar said of his character. “There’s your barback Lonny who works at the bar. There’s your narrator Lonny, and then there’s your everyman, regular guy Lonny. The one thing that’s the same is that he’s a guy that will always try to put a smile on your face. He’s the guy who tries to make everything happy and good.”
Sklar knows his character well, having played Lonny for two years on the “Rock of Ages” national tour, then for a year-and-a-half at the Palace Theater in New Hampshire before joining the Reno cast.
“Lonny is essentially who I am as a human,” Sklar said. “When I’m on stage, I’m essentially not acting. I’m just living my life, enjoying myself and giving the audience the humor and the entertainment that they want.”
As the characters struggle to find solutions to the obstacles placed before them, the audience is treated to a smorgasbord of rock hits of the 1980s, including “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “We Built This City,” “I Wanna Rock,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Here I Go Again,” “High Enough,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “The Final Countdown.”
Sklar said the show connects with a wide range of people, including those who aren’t into musical or live theater.
“When they hear the show has all these great hits of the ’80s, it piques their interest so they come out and see it and love it,” he said. “It’s like a gateway show into trying a new experience that is the realm of live theater.”
Sklar said on the national tour, audience members would sometimes dress up in their favorite ’80s outfits as if they were going to a real nightclub.
“People like to relive the ’80s,” he said. “There was a certain rebellion and free love in those days. The show is nostalgic and does a great job of touching base with everything 1980s. It’s like being inside the club at an actual rock ‘n’ roll concert again.”
The story also includes an aging superstar, Stacee Jaxx and his band, Arsenal, who are hired to help raise enough money to save the club. Does it work? Do Drew and Sherrie find what love is? Do the German developers drop their “clean living” credo and go back to their homeland to open a confectionary store?
You’ll have to come to the Eldorado’s Bourbon Room to find out.