Rock snobs love to hate the '80. Many's the professional rock critic who dismisses the era as one of auditory punchlines rather than actual music. Scoff if you will. Those who lived through the Golden Era of Walkmen, Pac Man and wine coolers know that the decade's music was, like, totally rad. For power ballads and emotive hair, nobody beats the likes of REO Speedwagon and Twisted Sister.
Music by both bands are center stage at Drury Lane this fall, as well as classic tunes by Journey, Guns 'N Roses, Styx, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi and a host of other MTV-worthy balladeers. With "Rock of Ages," Drury Lane is partying like it's 1989.
"(The show) is also timely, even though it is set more than 30 years or so ago," says director Scott Weinstein, who makes his primetime debut at Drury Lane after years of directing shows for the theater's young audience program. "It has a lot to say about gentrification."
The L.A.-set musical's two-pronged plot follows the fate of two aspiring rock stars: Drew (Russell Mernagh) is a bus boy/janitor at the Bourbon Room, where he just wants to rock. Sherrie (Cherry Torres) is just a small town girl, born and raised in South Detroit who, like Drew, is intent on becoming a star. Drew doesn't know it at first, but he's been waiting for a girl like Sherrie to come into his life. In short order, Sherrie and Drew learn that they cannot fight their feelings anymore.
The second plot has to do with an evil German developer (George Keating) intent on turning the Bourbon Room into condos, and cleaning up the tawdry glam of Sunset Strip. He does not care that the city was built on rock 'n roll. Everyone is knee-deep in the hoopla — including a rock cowboy named Stacee Jax (Adam Michaels).
Born in 1988, Torres doesn't remember the '80s, but as the daughter of two recording artists, she grew up steeped in a wide range of music — including the iconic hits of Journey, David Lee Roth and Quarterflash. She has a fondness for the fashion as well as the music. "I do love anything shoulder-paddy. Also body suits," she says. "I think my mom's going to see me on stage and be like, 'That looks like me 30 years ago.'"
Still, there's more to "Rock of Ages" than a retro hair-and-fashion show. "It's really about going after your dreams," says Torres, "and realizing that it's OK if your dreams change."
For all "Rock of Ages" has to say about the perils of gentrification and taking your bet shot anyway you want it, the show is defined by the gloriously excessive over-the-top music of the 1980s.
"The music is big. The hair is big. The costumes are big. There's a theatricality to this music that I love," says Weinstein. The music and its performers were also way ahead of their time in several crucial specks. ""That glam-metal, head-banging, hair rockers were doing gender fluidity long before most people even really knew what that was," Weinstein points out.
"We're approaching this music from a place of love and respect," Weinstein added. "If they don't already, people will leave agreeing: Foreigner is already awesome."
When: Aug. 24–Oct. 15
Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Tickets: $47-$62; www.drurylanetheatre.com or 630-530-0111