The city was London, the season was Summer Of ’65, and the Beatles had only recently “crossed the pond” to conquer America. Back in the UK, the Profumo Affair and its sexy instigator Christine Keeler was being splashed across British tabloids while at nearby seaside resorts, leather-clad Rockers were clashing in the streets with trendily dressed Mods.
This heady period in 20th Century English history now returns to bouncy, tuneful life in ModRock, Hagan Thomas-Jones’ dandy new jukebox musical that’s a little bit Romeo & Juliet, a little bit Grease, and a whole lot of fun.
Like jukebox hits Mamma Mia, All Shook Up, and Rock Of Ages before it, ModRock takes a whole bunch of chart-toppers, strings them together with a wisp of a plot, and lets the singing, the dancing, and the memories do the rest.
This time round, it’s the hits of ‘60s British pop stars like The Kinks, The Animals, The Hollies, Dusty Springfield, Gerry & the Pacemakers, The Who, Herman’s Hermits, and Petula Clark that propel the story of Rocker Romeo Adam (Steven Good) and Mod Juliet Kate (Melinda Porto), who—in the tradition of Grease’s Danny and Sandy—have met over summer vacation and fallen in love.
Whether their love can survive being on opposite sides of the cultural/fashion spectrum is the question posed by ModRock book writer Thomas-Jones, though anyone who doubts the certainty of a happy ending for our star-crossed lovers has clearly not taken Jukebox Musicals 101.
Not surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of depth in Thomas-Jones’ book, but who’s complaining? Kate is adorably cute, Adam is dangerously sexy, they’re surrounded by cute, sexy friends, and each and every one of them can sing and dance like nobody’s business.
Thomas-Jones gets high marks for picking just the right hits to propel ModRock’s plot threads—or is it the plot threads that have propelled his choice of songs? Either way, you’ve got Kate’s trendy brother Simon (Scott Kruse) being needled by his Mod chums for being such “A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” Adam longing to leave his working-class roots in “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” and Mod boy Georgie (Ian Littleworth) so tongue-tied by his crush on Kate that he can only declare himself gaga “For Your Love” when her attention is focused elsewhere. And speaking of one-sided love, Rocker chick Claire (Adrianna Rose Lyons) is just plain “Tired Of Waiting” for Adam to notice how head-over-heels she is for him.
Meanwhile, Kate and Adam recall how they first met at a “Bus Stop” under her umbrella, proclaim the exclusivity of their love in “I Only Want To Be With You,” and sing in counterpoint about their temporary estrangement in her “Summer Song” and his “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me.”
Quirky Rocker Johnny (Harley Jay) dreams about lazing on a “Sunny Afternoon” with gal pals Jane (Emily Morris) and Claire, Marianne (Erin Watkins) has her own unrequited love song in “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” and Simon has his own musical request, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Jane (Emily Morris) philosophizes that “You’ve Got Your Troubles” (and she’s got hers), Gillian (Julia Tobey) offers romantic advice to lovelorn Kate in “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying,” and Oliver (Michael Hawley) and Claire realize that there’s only one answer to the question of why they’re “gettin’ funny dreams” again and again … and it’s “I Can’t Explain. The ModRockin’ live band led by musical director John Ballinger gives us a couple instrumental minutes of “Cool Jerk.” Finally, the Mods and the Rockers join voices in ModRock’s three-part grand finale: “Time Of The Season,” “There’s A Kind Of Hush,” and the audience sing-along “Downtown.”
There’s also an exciting punch-packed Mods-vs.-Rockers fight sequence choreographed by Joe Sofranko midway through, since what would a Romeo & Juliet-style feud be without fists a-flyin’?
Director Brian Lohmann does a splendid job of keeping ModRock bright and breezy and his actors all on the same lighthearted page. Meanwhile, choreographer Michele Spears gives us one smashing ‘60s-style dance number after another, executed to perfection by her footwork-gifted cast.
Performances could hardly be any more terrific beginning with ModRock’s two stars. Porto is girl-next-door perky perfection as Kate and Good’s 6+foot Adam is as triple-threat heartthrobby as they get.
Supporting players shine equally brightly. On the male side, you’ve got guaranteed scene-stealer Jay, dynamic Kruse, boyishly buoyant Littleworth, and hunky Hawley, while on the opposite-sex side, there’s the sizzling Lyons, the vivacious Watkins, the pert and pretty Tobey, and the silky-voiced Morris.
Not to be forgotten are the equally swell (though solo-less) Scott Weston (Davy) and Jade Tailor (Lulu), while Emily Lopez, Austin Michael, Alistair Tober, and Nicholas Tubbs join Littleworth, Morris, and Weston as understudies.
While the ModRock playbill features song credits, a scene by scene listing, including which character sings which song, would be of considerably more use to the audience. The program does offer audiences a glossary of ‘60s British slang and ‘60s references. Even so, the cast’s spot-on accents (courtesy of dialect coach Brenda Beck) could be toned down a bit in the interest of comprehensibility.
ModRock looks absolutely marvy thanks to a scenic, lighting, and projection design by Joel Daavid that takes us all over 1965 London in a flash, and to Ann Closs-Farley’s colorful, sexy Modwear and Rockergear, each more era/character-perfect than the next. Top marks go too to Cricket S. Myer’s sound design, Judi Lewin’s hair, wig, and make-up design, and Daavid Hawkins’ props.
Though mostly hidden behind Daavid’s set, the onstage band does get revealed from time to time, the better to see as well as hear Ballinger (guitars, keyboards), Frank Josephs (keyboards), M.R. Whiteman (drums), Rick Musallam (guitars), and Omar D. Brandato (bass) bring David O’s and Ballinger’s musical arrangements to vibrant life.
ModRock is produced by Tom Coleman and Randi Coleman is co-producer. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. Cate Cundiff is production stage manager and Marcedes Clanton assistant stage manager. Rick Bernstein is company manager and Rick Culbertson and Gregory Franklin are general managers.
With so many mid-‘60s hits on its song list, ModRock is sure to bring back memories for Boomer-aged audience members, while its cast of some of L.A.’s most charismatic triple-threats ought to make it an equal pleaser for younger crowds. What Mamma Mia did to Abba tunes, All Shook Up to Elvis hits, and Rock Of Ages to ‘80s glam metal smashes, ModRock now does to Beatles-era British chart-toppers. Need I say more?
June 23, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont