Scenario #1: The year is 1981. At an unnamed bar, in an unnamed city, Journey’s power ballad “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” ravages the speakers, making the crowd go wild.
Scenario #2: The year is 2010. At an unnamed bar, in an unnamed city, Journey’s power ballad “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” ravages the speakers, making the crowd go wild.
The 80s may have come to a close over 20 years ago but this decade, known for big hair, bright colours, and the Rubix cube, produced music that has changed the world in 3 minutes or less. Whether it’s nostalgia, a love for hair metal or simply a desire to retro-fy your music library, there is a undeniable time-traveling power of 80s rock music.
This couldn’t be better exemplified than by the extraordinary success of Rock of Ages. This production comes to us from L.A., by way of New York and is now calling the stage of the Royal Alexandra home, for the next little while anyway. Torontette recently interviewed Rock of Ages director Kristin Hanggi and producer Janet Billig Rich to find out a little bit more about the music that makes this show so irresistable.
When asked what it is about 80s music that resonates with the audience Billig Rich stands divided. “People love songs that they know, especially songs that they relate to times in their lives. It brings you back to a place whether you were a happy, popular kid or a nerdy outsider, it doesn’t matter.” However she also says that it is the universality of 80s music that draws people to Rock of Ages. “My mom who is 78 loves Rock of Ages. Lots of people of different age groups appreciate it for different reasons. It’s the father who wants to share the songs that he used to listen to with his son. It’s the family that plays Rock Band together at home. It really connects with people in wildly different ways.”
Having recently been to the show, a quick scan of the audience confirmed my suspicion that people of all shapes and ages crave a dose of 80s music every once and a while. And what a better place to satisfy that craving that at Rock of Ages. Director Kristin Hanggi says that her greatest reward is watching the audience and, “seeing them having a good time and to hear what everyone is saying. And the cast is having so much fun on stage, it’s great to see this translate to the audience.” This musical tickles all your senses. Power ballads from Poison, Styx and Whitesnake rock your ears. A “small town girl-big city boy” love story unfolds in front of your eyes and cold beer whets your whistle so you can sing along to every song.
In a time when the 80s has become the source of endless mockery – think MacGruber or the viral explosion of Rick Astley’s dance moves – this show gushes authenticity. For example, there is a live band on stage, performing each song. Hanggi says this was a no-brainer because, “what we wanted to do was to capture what it’s like to be inside the Roxy or the Whisky or any of those clubs on the Sunset Strip and a big part of that was the music. The live music is what gives the energy and the pulse to the entire show.”
The fashion of Rock of Ages warrants bona fide status as well. The biggest thing for this production was no parachute pants, and no Members Only jackets. “We’re not making fun of the 80s,” says Billig Rich. “There was something brilliant about the fashion of the 80s. Almost any outfit on stage, you could wear out tonight and look amazing. It just has that weird little 80s twist, whether it’s the fabric, the colour, the way the shoulders sit, it’s couture.” The fashion of the 80s and the music of the 80s fight for first place as the most influential take-away from this decade. So much of today’s threads are woven with 80s revival: acid wash, harem pants, and shoulder pads. And so much of today’s music is laced with 80 resurgence: keyboard synths, electrifying guitar riffs and rebellious beats. Everything old is new again.
Rock of Ages has already wowed the audience in both L.A. and New York. Having only been in Toronto a month, I was curious if there was anything unique about the show’s Toronto stint thus far. Billig Rich says she couldn’t be more thrilled with the venue choice, The Royal Alexandra. “It’s like this theatre, that was built a hundred years ago was built for Rock of Ages. The stage is incredible, and we’re able to do things with the staging that we couldn’t do in other places. And every seat in the house is amazing.” No matter where you sit, you’re guaranteed the full Rock of Ages experience. And the Toronto audience? “Every city has its own mystique and its own vibe and personality. Toronto just fits with Rock of Ages on so many levels. I think there are some serious “rockers” here in Toronto.” Well, dear Torontonians, it seems as though we’ve developed a bit of a reputation.
From when the Rock of Ages soundtrack first hit the airwaves in the 80s, there has been a passing of the torch from one generation to the next. The bands we loved then are still bands that we love today, and if Rock of Ages isn’t a perfect testament to this, I don’t know what is. And if you are still a skeptic, get this: “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” hit number 6 on the 2009/2010 UK singles chart, almost 3 decades since its original release. The show’s behind-the-scenes leading lady couldn’t say it better. “There is something timeless about Journey. You can’t put on a Journey song and not be taken somewhere really special.”
About director Kristin Hanggi: Rock of Ages marks Ms. Hanggi’s Broadway directorial debut, after helming the musical’s Off- Broadway and L.A. productions. She also directed the NY and L.A. productions of the hit musical Bare (Ovation, L.A. Weekly Award); Pussycat Dolls Live at the Roxy with Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera and Charlize Theron; 2007 NY Fringe Best Play Winner, Catch the Fish; the L.A. premiere of Corpus Christi (Ticketholder Award); and the L.A. and NY productions of Ann E. Wrecksick. Other L.A. theatre: 12th Premise; 40 Days; Crane, Mississippi; Greystone; Wayside. Also a film director and screenwriter, Hanggi is currently writing the musical movie Dear Dumb Diary for Zucker Productions. MA from USC and BA from UCLA. She won’t stop believin’ . . .
About producer Janet Billig Rich: is a music industry veteran – artist manager, music supervisor, and Tony Award nominated Broadway theatre producer. She has worked with artists including the Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, and White Zombie and has managed Nirvana, The Breeders, Hole, Lisa Loeb and Dinosaur Jr. In addition to her production duties with the hit Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” her current and recent projects include producing and music supervision including the feature film “Freeloaders”, the television show Life in the Fab Lane with Kimora Lee Simmons, and ROCKED with Gina Gershon.