Encore Michigan

Dio’s “Rock of Ages” is pure rocking fun

Review April 17, 2016 Bridgette Redman

PINCKNEY, Mich.–For an adult night out, an evening at the Dio–Dining & Entertainment is a prescription for pure fun.

The Dio’s latest show, Rock of Ages, is raucous, loud, sexy and filled with laughs, especially for those who remember the 1980s. But even for younger adults, there is plenty to laugh at and plenty to enjoy.

Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical that wraps a plot around the big rock hits of the 1980s, is set in L.A. in the mid-1980s. Everything iconic about the decade shows up—big hair, sex, drugs, alcohol and lots and lots of rock and roll as loud as you could want it.

There are also plenty of stories—a love story between two young people coming to L.A. to pursue their dreams, one to rock and one to act; big business wanting to turn an iconic sunset strip into a strip mall, an old-time rocker trying to maintain an iconic bar where rock stars perform and people chase their dreams.

Along the way it plays with the world of the 80s and the world of musical theater, making fun of it but always in a loving way that only an insider can appreciate. The show never loses sight of what it is, and never takes itself too seriously. Instead, it invites the audience along for a ride that is wild and fun.

It starts and ends with a Puck-like narrator, played by Steve DeBruyne (2015 Wilde Award winner), who doubles as the director and a waiter for the meal. He’s Lonny Barnett, who works at the Dupree bar where most the action takes place. Heavy with sideburns, DeBruyne relishes the role and whips the audience up to participate fully. He is unapologetically inappropriate and celebrates the excesses of the decade.

Christopher Kamm plays the young lover and rocker Drew, and brings a great physicality to the role that is impressive when he’s dancing or rocking out. He’s also got quite the set of lungs and can knock the ballads home. He’s also very likeable, even when he’s making up songs about hard boobies. Kamm finds the right amount of innocence to bring to the character–innocence in a world soaked with sex and rock-and-roll. He is just as good as the Broadway tour performer and is at the heart of the story. His counterpart,  Sherrie Christian, played by Kristin Renee Reeves, is the small-town girl who comes to L.A. looking for an acting career. They have clear chemistry on stage, which makes their love story work; the attraction between them is strong and adds realism to the love story in this otherwise over-the-top musical.

Two other standout performers are Greg Bailey as Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Dupree bar and Elizabeth Jaffe as Regina Koontz, the city planner who is going to fight back against the gentrification of the L.A. built on rock and roll.

Bailey, who was also the waiter at our table and a very attentive server who gets everything right, and grew better with every scene he was in. He was the one who held things together even when he wanted to give up. Bailey is especially fun to watch in his scenes with DeBruyne where they have the audience cheering and applauding amid their laughter; together they make beautiful moments that bring smiles and laughter long after the show is over.

Jaffe embodies the Berkely-esque activist whose long skirts contrasted with the skin-tight mini-skirts of the waitresses and strippers. She represents another aspect of the 80s and has the energy and spirit to do it up right.

There are plenty of other strong performances in this large-cast musical: Dan Morrison is the uptight, establishment German businessman who hits every note just right as the story moves his character along throughout the musical; Brian E. Buckner was lithe and reminded one a little of the Tin Woodman from Oz in his dancing and antics; Sean Philibin as the rocker; Stacee Jaxx, who oozes sleaziness in his narcissistic outlook; Linzi Joy Thomas as Justice Charlier, the owner of the strip club, has a beautiful voice and was just the mentor Sherrie needed. The chorus committed to its role and painted the musical with the edge it needed to constantly rock.

Reeves doubles as the choreographer and her work is consistently high energy. The group dance numbers are especially fun as they filled the stage and use all the major dance moves from the 80s.

Jared Schneider as Franz Klinemann puts in a mixed performance. His character is supposed to be overtly gay, but he comes on too strong at times. However, in his climactic scenes, he is spot-on fantastic and brings yet another moment that helps make the whole evening.

Matt Tomich has a busy evening as the set/lighting and sound design director. The show is filled with specials from flashing lights to spots to special lighting and sound effects and they are all well executed. However, the lights decided to go renegade at the beginning of the night, and the start of the three-hour show had to be delayed about 15 minutes while Tomich went back and forth between the breaker boxes and the lighting booth to try to get them fixed.

Kudos also go to Norma Polk and Katy Vore for costume and hair design. Both are over-the-top as was befitting for the decade and the place. Both capture the period well.

Brian Rose leads the live musicians who take up residence on the top of the stage. They are an integral part of the show and if at times they seem too loud, one only has to remember that this is a rock musical from a period when the music was always too loud.

The Dio is a dinner theater and the meals are always prepared by Chef Jarod DeBruyne. This show features vegetarian pasta (with a sherry cream sauce), broiled cod and the chef’s signature boneless, fried chicken.

If you’re looking for a night where you can party down, the Dio is the place to be from now until May 22. You can even, like some audience members did opening night, bring your lighters and wave along during the final numbers.

Click here for show days, times, details and ticket info.