STAUNTON — Ava Quesenberry raided her mom’s closet for some of the clothes she’ll wear during this weekend’s musical. Wednesday night, at a dress rehearsal, the Staunton High School senior had a combination of clothing items — a jean jacket and skirt, MTV t-shirt, and boots that she found in the school’s theater wardrobe closet, and a leather belt and bracelets that did indeed come from her mom.
After all, the music in “Rock of Ages” is probably more suited to these actors’ parents. With songs originally performed by Foreigner, Journey, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake and more, the production very much has a 1980s feel to it.
“I’m super excited to show my parents,” said Brooklyn Hunt, who plays Anita Bath in the show. “My dad was like, ‘It’s literally going to be like a rock concert.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s literally what it is.'”
Stage manager William Brooks said the performance is a jukebox musical about rock and roll in the 1980s. The Staunton senior said there is a loose plot about a small-town girl named Sherrie Christian (portrayed by Quesenberry) who comes to Los Angeles to be an actor. She eventually finds love with a city boy Drew Boley, who is played by Oliver Oakes.
There’s a second plot also involving Lonny Barnett (played by Cody Comisford) and Dennis Dupree (played by Sam Mosley) trying to save the bar they own as well as the entire strip from being leveled.
The plots, though, are secondary. Mostly this is about having fun with the music.
“If you’ve listened to rock and roll in the last 40 years you’ve probably heard these songs,” Brooks said.
Comisford’s character is not only part of one of the plots, but the musical’s narrator. He described Lonny Barnett as the goofball character of the show. Comisford said that role fits him well because he’s played a lot of goofball characters in plays over the years.
A senior at Staunton High, Comisford was familiar with most of the songs in the production, some more than others. He thinks people will really enjoy the show.
“Well, one, 80s music,” he said. “Two, it’s a great show. It’s super fun. We’ve had a lot of fun doing it. It’s been fun just listening to it. There’s a lot of fun dances. Fun songs. It will be quite entertaining.”
“Rock of Ages” will be performed at Staunton High School Friday, April 14 and Saturday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 16 at 2:30 p.m. General admission is $15 and student admission is $12.
Mosely said singing rock music has been a challenge. He’s used to singing traditional Broadway show tunes. This is different.
“For this, it doesn’t need to sound pretty,” Mosley said. “It just needs to be loud and aggressive. That was a big struggle for me.”
There’s even a live band with John Hoy on guitar, Dalton Bohart on bass, Berkeley Harner on drums and Lille Harner on piano. Oakes said the biggest reason he’d tell people to come out this weekend is that band.
“We have the most phenomenal band,” Oakes said. “They’re putting the pressure on us to sing well because they’re doing everything we could ever want.”
Melissa Maynard is the director and producer. She said the group of students, starting with the seniors, are really strong performers.
“They’re really good working together, like they’re buddies,” Maynard said. “They have really good ensemble work. They have really great comic timing. We wanted to find something that was large enough to get them all in a nice role.”
She said the music isn’t easy to sing and the actors had to do a lot of growing to meet the music.
“This is my 28th year and we’ve never done rock and roll music in here,” Maynard said. “I know my choreographers have had so much fun. The music is fun because it reminds me of my college years. I’m not tired of hearing it yet, so that’s a bonus. It’s really exciting to do something this different.”
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— Patrick Hite is a reporter at The News Leader. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Patrick_Hite. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com.