Break out the spandex and Aqua Net! Hair metal is hitting midtown.
Joe Jefferson Players (11 S. Carlen St.) are bringing the Tony Award-winning “Rock of Ages” to the Azalea City for the first time starting June 2. There’s little doubt the big ‘80s homage will play to packed houses for three weekends.
That’s because the boy-meets-girl tale on the Sunset Strip is mostly framework for a soundtrack bursting with more than 30 of the best-remembered power ballads and barn burners of the Reagan era. Mobile and classic rock go together like power chords and synthesizer.
For Kate Arrington, who plays female lead and small-town girl Sherrie, the toughest part wasn’t mental or musical. It was physical.
“It’s really hard to do pole dancing. I had no idea how much arm and leg strength was needed. The girls who do it are covered in bruises, called ‘pole kisses’ in the business. Apparently that’s why so many strippers wear thigh-high boots — to cover them,” Arrington said.
She and two other actresses signed up for pole dancing lessons as soon as they were cast in February. Rehearsals ran five days a week, but they spent extra days learning to twirl at a downtown fitness center.
“I was going to wear a wig but with all the pole dancing and upside downs I have to do, I ended up not doing it and just dying my hair. Next are some extensions,” Arrington said.
Though older than the character she plays, Arrington wasn’t quite a teen during the musical’s era. She knows the tunes thanks to older siblings who drenched her childhood with them.
“The hardest song in the show for me is [Damn Yankees’] ‘High Enough.’ You can’t use your falsetto, your head voice. You have to belt the entire song, so every time you have to belt the chorus, which feels like 30 times, you’re way out there,” Arrington said.
For Jake Coleman, who plays Drew, a boy born and raised in South Detroit, the hardest part about the soundtrack has been learning lyrics. Or maybe we should say “the correct lyrics.”
“The hardest part has been these songs I’ve known for three and a half decades and the words I thought were there aren’t the actual words. You have to relearn a whole lot,” Coleman said.
Mondegreens aside, he said a couple of tunes have been the most challenging.
“Well, there’s ‘I Want to Rock’ by Twisted Sister, because the actual chorus I didn’t really know. And Survivor’s ‘The Search Is Over’ — I didn’t know because it wasn’t in a Rocky movie,” Coleman said.
Both actors pointed to some of the bare bones accompaniment of rehearsal as tough. For efficiency’s sake, a full band wasn’t on hand.
“Singing Quiet Riot with just a piano doesn’t seem right,” Arrington said.
The full quintet — two guitars, bass, keyboards, drums — finally arrived for the last week of rehearsals and it boosted the cast. Coleman said when he heard an unnamed bass riff from the pit it hit home.
“We rocked that sucker out. I’m a little worse for wear today because we did it without microphones, and so we’re trying to match the band and there’s no way, but it brought a whole new element of energy,” Coleman said.
Both actors had ample experience to hone their instincts. Coleman estimated he’s been in around 100 plays since 2000. This is his first lead at JJP — “my white whale” — but thinks it’s ideal for him.
“While I’m the male lead a lot of times I come in, sing the songs I know, have one or two lines of dialogue and then I leave. So if that’s the male lead, I’ll take that all day,” Coleman said.
Arrington started on stage in her native New England long before relocating to Mobile.
“My first show was ‘Sound of Music’ when I was itty-bitty and my first lead role was Little Orphan Annie when I was 10 and then I’ve just never stopped since,” Arrington said.
Those roles included leads in “Cabaret,” “Cats” and “Gypsy” among others. Both she and Coleman said rehearsals for “Rock of Ages” have been a blast.
“You can’t complain when the director is getting up there jamming out with you at rehearsal. He’ll get up in front and start dancing,” Arrington laughed.
Arrington even found some of her own costumes. She said a resurgence in ‘80s fashions landed her some crucial pleather adornments.
While he’s wailing out Night Ranger, Foreigner, Poison, Whitesnake, Styx and Warrant, Coleman’s got one more challenge before him.
“I have to keep my wig hair out of my mouth,” he quipped.
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