On its 10th anniversary, a heavy metal-glam rock jukebox musical sings for the ages

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — "Rock of Ages" arrives at Proctors for three performances Friday and Saturday. It's a stop on the show's 10th anniversary tour.

10th anniversary tour? Perhaps because the musical features music from the great glam rock and heavy metal bands of the '80s, it seems as if it's been around forever.

Not so. "Rock of Ages" opened on Broadway in April 2009 and ran for 2,328 performances, more than "Oklahoma," "South Pacific," "Hair," "Spamalot," Evita," and "The Music Man." "Hamilton" has run less than 1,550 performances to date, and the original production of "Sweeney Todd" ran for only 557 performances.

This tour is directed by Martha Banta, who knows something about long running shows. She was the resident director for "Mamma Mia," (5,758 performances) and has been an associate director for "Rent" since it was developed at the New York Theater Workshop and stayed with it throughout its 5,123 performance run.

However, though Banta, a Lake George native, is an in-demand director in New York City, she is better known in this area as the person, who along with her husband, David Turner, founded the local professional summer theater company Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls That was 25 years ago. Now we're talking a long run.

Banta, like most experienced theater professionals, realizes that popularity is not the measure of a show's quality, and admits she was skeptical about directing "Rock of Ages." In a recent telephone interview, she said that she almost turned down the opportunity to direct the tour.

"I really didn't know the piece," she admitted. "I thought of it as a typical jukebox musical, without much of a story. But I took the script home and read it. To my surprise, I found myself laughing out loud. I thought it was a lot of fun that works perfectly with all that great music from the '80s. I stopped thinking of it as a concert with a thin story. In my mind, with some minor alterations, it could became more a musical-play. And that appealed to me."

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She says she started to see the role of the narrator as sort of a Puck figure (from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream.") "He kind of pops up here and there and make things happen," she said.

In her interview with the tour's producers they became excited about her ideas and put her in touch with the show's playwright, Chris D'Arienzo. He loved it, as well as a few more ideas that she shared. Most of those suggestions concerned taking certain sexist tones out of a play that takes place in the '80s. "We want to be faithful to the era, and still be sensitive to the Me Too Movement," she said.

Banta said that her experience developing "Rent" and preparing numerous productions of "Mamma Mia" helped her bring a slightly different focus to "Rock of Ages."

"With `Rent,'" she said, "I learned how rock music can be used in a legitimate way in a Broadway setting. With `Mamma Mia' I saw how a jukebox musical can work if the music is set up correctly."

She points out that the "Rock of Ages" score, with hit songs by Journey, Styx, Poison, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, are both powerful and popular. "There's a reason the show was so popular," she says.

Another reason for her enthusiasm is the non-Equity cast she is working with. Anthony Nuccio is the aspiring rock singer, who Banta says, "can really hit those high extended notes." She also raves about Katie Lamark, a veteran of several tours of "Rent" who, Banta says, is "perfect for Sherrie," the wannabe actress in "Rock of Ages."

"I honestly believe we have a very good show. Audiences are having a blast."


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