HOW TO SAVE A 1987 STYLE BAR
The current Paramount production of Aurora is this fun and enjoyable Rock of Ages “jukebox” musical.
The group that settles on stage immediately catches your attention. Big, long hair that’s reminiscent of the 80s – including the wind machine to blow that hair out!
We are introduced to Lonny (Shea Coffman) who will be our narrator throughout our journey…
Lonny introduces us to Drew (native of Chicago Kieran McCabe which looks a lot like Steve Perry) who works as a busboy at Hollywood club The Bourbon Room owned by Dennis (Karl Hamilton which seems to be straight out of the 80s). Drew of course dreams of being a rocker. A young woman from Paola, Kansas, Sherrie, arrives looking for a job even though her dream is to be an actress (Taylor Di Tola perfectly cast in his Paramount debut). Of course, in any true musical form, Drew immediately falls in love with Sherrie and convinces Dennis to hire her as a waitress (correct term for the 1980s).
Hertz’s German development team (Michael Ehlers speaking with a great German accent and dialogue) and his son Franz Klinemann (Nick Druzbanski drawing applause with every scene) persuading the mayor to ditch the Strip’s “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” lifestyle and move on to a life of his own. Regina’s planner (Carisa Gonzalez’s characterization is spot on) doesn’t approve of this decision and sets out to shut down the plan. The demolition plan includes the elimination of the Bourbon, so Dennis decides to ask Stacee Jaxx (Josh Scholl, winner of ABC’s Karaoke Battle USA), who made his debut at the Bourbon and his group Arsenal, to give one last show. Drew pursues his dream of being a rocker and Sherrie urges him to pursue his dream. After an argument with her parents, Sherrie begins to have feelings for Drew when he auditions to open for Arsenal. Drew is finally able to finish the lyrics to a song and he realizes that the words come from his feelings for Sherrie. Drew becomes Arsenal’s opening act and invites Sherrie over for a picnic to calm their nerves. Mistakenly, he suggests that the two are just friends, which ruins the date.
After Stacee Jaxx arrives at the Bourbon, Sherrie immediately develops a crush on him. Believing that Drew is not interested in her, Sherrie has a date with Stacee in the men’s bathroom. As Drew opens for Arsenal, he has no idea there’s a record producer in the audience. After their date, Stacee tells Dennis to fire Sherrie. The band’s guitarist realizes what has happened and knocks out Stacee. The record producer is impressed with Drew and suggests he take over for Stacee, which Drew accepts. When Sherrie is fired, she tries to comfort herself with Drew but he knows what she and Stacee have done and ignores her. All the while, Regina continues her protest which gathers steam and supporters.
Jobless Sherrie meets Judge Charlier (Melody A. Betts with the powerful voice) the owner of the nearby Venus Club which Justice calls a “gentleman’s club”. She tells the story of Sherrie telling her that many small town girls end up being strippers. At the end of Act I, Drew, Sherrie, Regina and Dennis find themselves alone.
Act II begins with the demolition on the Strip. Franz begins to fall in love with Regina and alienates her father. Dennis and Lonny decide to join the protest against the demolition. The record producer is unhappy with Drew’s rocker image and Sherrie learns how the Venus Club operates. Drew and Sherrie accidentally meet on the street. Sherrie is embarrassed by his job and Drew is upset that the record company is trying to re-image him – they want to put him in a boy band called The Zee Guys. Sherrie confesses to Drew that she was crazy about him. They part more confused after their conversation.
Later at the Venus, a drunk Stacee shows up and recognizes Sherrie. After being forced to perform a trick dance on him, Sherrie punches him. Drew shows up to tell Sherrie how he feels, but after seeing Sherrie and Stacee in a suggestive position, he storms out. Justice later tells Drew that Sherrie punched Stacee in the jaw. Meanwhile, Regina has convinced Franz to stand up to her father if he doesn’t agree with her vision. Franz admits he has his own dream of opening a confectionery store in Germany. He rebels against his father and confesses his love for Regina. At the same time, Dennis and Lonny, fearing the loss of the Bourbon, confess to having feelings for each other – “Can’t Fight This Feeling” – brilliantly performed. Sherrie decides to leave the Venus and Justice tells her that she had a similar experience with her first love. As we see, everyone is distraught as they try to move on with their lives. Franz leaves for Germany and his father begins to regret the way he treated him. Regina explains to Hertz that her son doesn’t hate him – he just wants him to support his dream. Hertz then decides to return the Bourbon deed to Dennis and invest in his son’s confectionery. Drew now delivers pizza and realizes none of his dreams have come true. He’s not a rocker and Sherrie leaves. Lonny arrives and breaks the fourth wall by explaining to Drew that he serves as the “dramatic conjurer” for the show and that if Drew really wants a happy ending, it’s up to him and no one else to have the girl. At this point, Drew realizes he doesn’t need fame to make him happy – just Sherrie. He meets her at the train station and in true musical fashion, they realize that they have survived all the trials and tribulations and that they belong together.
To tie it all together, there is an epilogue.
The Bourbon doesn’t get demolished, Stacee Jaxx flees to Uruguay after some activities, Franz has opened his candy store and has a long-distance relationship with Regina who is now the mayor of West Hollywood. Dennis dies and leaves the Bourbon to Lonny. Sherrie and Drew move to Glendale and start a family. Lonny tells us that on the Strip, sometimes the dreams you arrive with aren’t always the dreams you leave with, but they always rock. The entire cast along with the audience sing “Don’t Stop Believing”.
It’s a fun show and it accurately reflects the years in which the story takes place. The music is a treasure trove of 80s classics. One of the real stars of the show is the band! They are on stage from start to finish where they get their own moment in the sun.
Paramount has put on another great show! Director/choreographer Amber Mak has a high-energy cast that delivers with every song. His choreography is also spectacular. Side note – this show has been postponed from 2020 and auditions have been done virtually. The costumes designed by Therese Jambon evoke the time. The band consists of bandleader Kara Kesselring on keyboards, Bass – Janis Wallin; Drums – Jim Widlowski; Guitar 1 – Dan Peters; Guitar 2 – Scott tip. Cheer!!! The set, designed by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, had the bar on one side, the Venus on the other, and the band in the middle. Perfect visual!
Everyone has dreams – some come true and some don’t. Spend 2 hours listening to the songs you’ll remember exactly where you were while laughing at some period references. The plot of this show is as old as Broadway and Hollywood – don’t stop believing it.