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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ken colodontoRae Wessel (Sherrie), “Rock Of Ages,” Feb. 9-25. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ken colodontoRae Wessel (Sherrie), “Rock Of Ages,” Feb. 9-25.

Civic to ‘Rock’ the ‘80s at Crest

Friday, February 9, 2018 by LUKE MUENCH Special to The Press in Focus

In the case of many musicals, the songs performed are the true focus, even above the narrative and main characters, and “Rock of Ages” is no exception.

“Rock of Ages” is being presented Feb. 9-25 by Civic Theatre of Allentown, in Alumnae Hall, Cedar Crest College, Allentown.

“The characters have been fashioned to accommodate the music,” says Civic Theatre Associate Artistic Director-Production Manager Will Morris, who’s directing the musical.

“That’s the way I’ve been directing and piecing this together. The idea is that it is a rock concert, and these are actors and singers who are there to perform this music.”

“Rock of Ages” is a rock opera that includes such 1980s’ rock hits as “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and “Don’t Stop Believing.”

The musical is being presented at Cedar Crest because of the $5.5-million “The Next Act” renovation project at Civic’s home, the Nineteenth Street Theatre.

While some might find this challenge daunting, Morris has had years of practice with this.

“I was on tour for a year, so I was constantly adapting quickly to different spaces,” Morris says. “It’s always challenging, especially when you’re used to a certain rhythm.

“It’s being thrown a curveball of doing it with different stage parameters. The stage that we’re using is half the width of [the Civic Theatre] stage, so figuring out how to stage a rock musical in a space that is noticeably smaller is tough.

“Additionally, while this is a theater space, the way they use it is more in the style of a lecture hall. I’m the lighting guy, so I go, ‘OK, with a rock musical, how do we make this space conducive for our lighting aids?’ It’s challenging but reinvigorating.”

With music as the star of the show, a retro-style band has been brought on to the bring authenticity to the production.

“The band will be dressed in ‘80s’ regalia, kind of like Poison, on a platform above the stage. If we weren’t using a band, there are tracks available, but that’s, in my eyes, the wrong choice.

“It’s a musical theater nostalgia piece. When people are coming, they’re coming for the music. They aren’t coming to wonder what the story will be. To not do it live is a disservice to the piece.”

The cast is: Lonny (Daniel Becker), Dennis Dupree (Robert Trexler), Sherrie (Rae Wessel), Stacee Jaxx (Brent Schlosshauer), Drew (Anthony Rizzuto), Regina (Deena Linn), Franz (Chris Olson), Hertz (Todd Rizzuto), Justice (Tracy Ceschin), Keith (Eric Wilburn), Waitress No. 1 (Kathleen Oswalt), and Ensemble (Carina Buie, Eric Wilburn, Zoli Heft, Alessandra Fanelli, Zachary Einstein, Vince Rostkowski).

“You know, the finale is ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ and that’s just a brilliant piece of music, does all the things it’s intended to do, and leaves you with hopeful feelings,” Morris says.

“One of my favorites is the mashup with ‘More Than Words’ and ‘To Be with You’ and ‘Heaven.’ It comes together in such a beautiful way, with everything amped up because of the time period and source material. This musical journey is a moment in the play where it kind of settles and allows the music to serve the story for a moment and it’s just so beautiful.”

In matching the overall feel of the music, “Rock of Ages” strives to be as grand and loud as everyone remembers the time period being.

“I’ll go back to that word, ‘melodrama.’ It’s completely in keeping with glamor, fun, having a very, very awesome time. So, even when the piece gets ‘serious,’ it’s always being filtered through this lens of this big, ‘more is more’ attitude. It’s just fun.”

Morris hopes theater-goers leave the show remembering the ‘80s fondly with big grins spread across their faces.

“It’s 100 percent a nostalgic piece, so I hope they relate to the story and characters. But it circles back on allowing them to remember what they were going though at the time, and the grandiose time allows them to remember the good stuff.”

Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943