Theater Review: Gateway’s ‘Rock of Ages’ Is Electrifying

Theater Review: Gateway’s ‘Rock of Ages’ Is Electrifying

Bringing summer back to Bellport with a bang and lots of big hair is Rock of Ages—a stunner of a production! From beginning to end, this musical will have you singing and clapping along with over 25 of the best songs that rocked the ’80s.

The show is set in 1987 on LA’s infamous Sunset Strip, in the Bourbon Room bar. Genson Blimline, a native Long Islander fresh off Broadway’s run of Rock of Ages, reprises his role of Lonny Barnett for Gateway. Blimline is on point the entire performance with comedic timing that is uproarious and vocals worthy of a rock star. Lonny and Dennis Dupree (played by Justin Colombo) are sidesplittingly funny, and had the audience roaring during their duet “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

We meet Drew Boley, a busboy at the Bourbon Room from South Detroit who dreams of becoming a rock star, and Sherrie Christian, a small-town girl from Kansas who aspires to be a famous actress. Drew, played by the adorable and talented Anthony Festa, falls instantly for the pretty blonde, played by powerhouse Emily Behny. Festa’s vocals are exactly what I expect from a rocker, and he is completely convincing as the love-struck and naturally talented rock star Drew. In “I Wanna Rock” you can feel his passion for music in each note, and in “I’ve Been Waiting for a Girl” we can feel him falling hard for Sherrie. As our Sherrie, Behny is at first a bit reserved and demure, but once she hits those high, powerful notes like the ones in “Harden My Heart,” the small town girl from Kansas seems to disappear before our eyes as Sherrie blossoms into a world-hardened woman.

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Behind the scenes a German father-son duo bribes the mayor to sell the Sunset Strip to the dismay of the mayor’s former assistant Regina, played by Kelly Felthous. Felthous might play a secondary character, but her vocals are anything but! She brings the house down with “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and she handles the German builder’s son Franz— played by a hysterical Michael Lorz—exceedingly well and in the end, helps save the Sunset Strip. Keep an eye on these two—they’re show stealers!

In an effort to make some money and help save the Sunset Strip, Dupree hatches the idea to invite (blackmail) rock star Stacee Jaxx to perform his last show with the group Arsenal before they disband. This, of course, happens on the eve of Drew and Sherrie’s first real date, where Drew stupidly blows his shot with Sherrie. Feeling rejected, Sherrie runs into the arms of the slimy, but handsome and rich (and famous) Stacee Jaxx, and the two end up hooking up in the men’s room as Drew opens the show for Arsenal. The proverbial crap hits the fan when Drew finds out what Sherrie did. Stacee Jaxx demands Dupree fire Sherrie, and it looks as though our love story has ended. Will Act II change this?

A real coup for Gateway was the last minute addition of Blondie’s lead guitarist, Tommy Kessler, as the onstage lead guitar player for the show. Kessler has played in Rock of Ages since its Off-Broadway days, and has taken a three-week break off the national tour to appear in Gateway’s rock star production.

Rock of Ages lives up to its name, as it will literally rock your world. The cast is sexy and sensational, bringing to life an era of badass and bad hair, with vocals that left me stunned and grinning from ear to ear. YES. Gateway and summer are back!

Don’t miss “Rock of Ages” playing at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport through June 6. For tickets visit gatewayplayhouse.org.

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