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Popejoy gets '80s nostalgia

A touring company of the Broadway show “Rock of Ages” featuring plenty of 1980s music is coming to Popejoy Hall.
A touring company of the Broadway show “Rock of Ages” featuring plenty of 1980s music is coming to Popejoy Hall.

You can hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and 25 other classic rock tunes from the 1980s in a single performance.

The performance is neither a rock concert nor a musical revue. These songs all from the ’80s are packed in “Rock of Ages,” which is described as a musical comedy with a rock concert feel.

The songs help tell multiple story lines. The setting for the stage show is Hollywood, Calif., in 1987.

The main story centers on Sherrie, a girl from small-town Kansas who comes to Hollywood in search of an acting career. She meets Drew, a wanna-be rock star. The show follows the ups and downs of their careers and the emotions of their on-again-off-again relationship.

A subplot tells about the father-son developers who convince the mayor to turn part of the city into “clean living” areas. That planned redevelopment includes the demolition of The Bourbon Room where Sherrie works as a waitress and Drew performs.

Adam John Hunter, the director of the “Rock of Ages” tour, has worked with many productions of the show. The first time was as a stage manager when it moved from off-Broadway to Broadway.

“It’s a fun challenge to work with actors and sometimes discover new stuff and sometimes shepherd them,” Hunter said in a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Not all actors are the same, but you need to get the same results … and you need to make it feel natural, organic. ‘Rock of Ages’ has been successful by making all the productions feel unique and not just a cookie cutter.”

That means, he said, allowing the actors a certain amount of freedom to be themselves and also permitting them to find inside themselves the qualities that relate to their characters. The idea is to make those characters come alive as real people.

After the tour hits the road, Hunter said, he visits some of the stops to ensure that the performers are focused on telling the story and are connected with each other on stage.

“It’s the type of show that gets a lot of fan reaction. I don’t want the cast to play for the reactions. It’s not just getting big laughs and big applause from the audience,” he said.

If you go
WHAT: “Rock of Ages”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6
WHERE: Popejoy Hall, Center for the Arts, UNM campus
HOW MUCH: $35, $50, $60 and $65 in advance at www.unmtickets.com, by calling 505-925-5858 or toll-free 877-664-8661, at ticket offices in the UNM Bookstore and at the Pit, at area Albertsons supermarkets or at the door
ADVISORY: Contains language, dancing and costumes that may be inappropriate for children

In the production coming to Popejoy, Justin Columbo portrays Lonny, the narrator and a character in the show.

In a prepared question-and-answer, Columbo said that unlike other jukebox musicals such as “Mamma Mia!” and “Jersey Boys,” “Rock of Ages” poses a special challenge for him because it takes music from a single decade.

“I listened to as much ’80s rock as I could and I found that a lot of it hit me in the same way. The music is very emotional and very fun, to say the least. These songs have some real stuff go on in them, and that’s why our show works so well,” Columbo said in the emailed Q&A.

“These are songs that a generation dated to, kissed to, danced to, broke up to, got married to. These songs have some real nostalgic power behind them.”

Some of the other songs in the show are REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” Styx’s “Renegade” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

The Broadway production of “Rock of Ages” was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2009, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical and Best Costume Design.

At present, there are productions of the show on Broadway, in London and in Las Vegas, Nev.

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