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Latest Drayton production is crushin’ on the eighties

The clothes. The hair. The music. Such is how we remember the 1980s. Awful and enduring, in not-always-equal measure. Actually, it’s mostly the music that’s endured, thankfully.

Combining all three elements, glam metal epitomized the era: everything was big, especially the hair.

Transporting you back (if you remember the first time around) or sending you there for the first, Rock of Ages features all the touchstones. The Drayton Entertainment musical opened this week at the Dunfield Theatre Cambridge.

Set to the soundtrack of some ’80s hair band staples, Rock of Ages takes us back to 1987 on Sunset Strip, where boys and girls come to launch their Hollywood dreams of music, movies and stardom. There we meet Drew Boley, a Detroit boy with dreams being a rock star … but working as a busboy in a club. Along comes Sherrie Christian, a small-town girl literally fresh off the bus with visions of silver screen glory.

Throw in an effort to save the Bourbon Room from politicians and developers and you’ve got a self-styled goofy tribute to the ‘80s hard rock scene.

The music and the costumes are of a time, but some of the underpinning themes are not.

“The idea of wanting to be a rock star is timeless,” says Kale Penny of his character, Drew Boley, who “leaves Detroit for L.A., getting a job in a bar on Sunset Strip – he’s trying to live the dream.”

And what would the story be without another timeless theme?

“They fall in love. Well, he falls in love right away. It’s the classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl.”

There’s also another love story that fuels the production and the audiences that come to see it: the music is a top-billing star. Rock of Ages includes 28 classic rock tunes such as Don’t Stop Believin’, We Built This City, The Final Countdown, Here I Go Again, Harden My Heart and Can’t Fight this Feeling.

Born in 1989, Penny missed out on the music when it first came out, but some of the tunes were well-known, being staples of radio … along with the requisite movie soundtracks and even commercials. Songs by the likes of Journey, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi, for instance.

“There are some gems of the era that I’ve grown to love,” says Penny of his immersion into the role.

That includes Drew’s power ballad, Warrant’s Heaven – “I’d never heard it, but I’ve grown to love it.”

Penny first played the role for his hometown Vancouver Arts Club. He has also appeared in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Million Dollar Quartet on the West Coast. This is his first outing with Drayton.

His love interest, Sherrie, is played by someone who’s no stranger to Drayton productions. Jayme Armstrong most recently appeared as Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain.

The cast also includes Jamie McKnight, fresh from his performance as the title character in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as the cocky rock mega-star Stacee Jaxx, belting out hits like Wanted Dead or Alive, Paradise City and Rock You Like a Hurricane.

Broadway performer Aaron Walpole makes his Drayton Entertainment debut as Lonny, co-owner of The Bourbon Room. A former Canadian Idol semi-finalist, Walpole has appeared in Les Misérables and Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway and on the national tour of Kinky Boots, among other shows. Mark Harapiak takes on the role of Dennis Dupree, Lonny’s business partner. Audiences may recognize him as Ruben in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Bill Austin in Mamma Mia!, among other roles.

Rock of Ages is a demanding musical, Penny notes, given the up-tempo music and the always-in-motion script.

“It requires a lot of motivation and a lot of focus,” he says, noting none of the cast is taking the method acting approach to their characters. Living the lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t mix well with eight shows a week.

Rock of Ages runs at the Dunfield Theatre Cambridge until November 5. Tickets are $46 ($27 for those under 20), available online at www.draytonentertainment.com, at the box office or by calling 519-621-8000 or toll free at 1-855 DRAYTON (372-9866).

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