Broadway’s Rock of Ages
Carteret Performing Arts Center – Carteret, NJ – April 1, 2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
It was April 1st in the Garden State. The day prior the temperature had dropped to the 30s, making it feel anything but springlike. While morning brought a rise in temperature, a steady rainfall made the day ahead look to be a wash out. However, by afternoon the sun was shining, the thermometer hit 70 degrees and it appeared to be a gloriously beautiful spring day. But, it was April Fool’s Day and this glimpse of springtime perfection may have been a little joke played by Mother Nature. With the country recently experiencing unprecedented weather conditions, from the West Coast to the South to the Mid-West, it should’ve come as no surprise when our unexpected spring day abruptly ended with tornado warnings across various parts of the state, a place where tornados are a rarity. Upon hearing the warnings and watching blue skies turn an ominous gray, I wondered if evening events would be canceled. Would the Broadway’s Rock of Ages show go on at Carteret Performing Arts Center? Would fans be deterred from attending?
With no tornadoes in sight, the doors at Carteret PAC opened and fans arrived to this new entertainment space which includes a lower-level comedy club/piano lounge, a main floor concert/entertainment space, and a rooftop lounge with a stage, bar and dining areas. Fans slowly filled the venue as the rain began to fall. As the raindrops suddenly increased in volume, I overheard several fans discussing weather reports and checking their cell phones. “Ohhh, a tornado hit Howell!” one woman exclaimed. “I’m going to check in with my neighbor,” said another. While it was a bit alarming to hear tornado activity was occurring in NJ, my eavesdropping told me this was happening further south and hopefully not traveling towards Carteret. Thankfully, all thoughts of storms and tornadoes were whisked away the moment the houselights dimmed, multicolored lights brilliantly illuminated the stage and Broadway’s Rock of Ages musicians and singers entered with electrifying energy.
Broadway’s Rock of Ages was born from the Broadway rock musical Rock of Ages. This theatrical show, intertwined with a rock concert, with music performed by rockstar musicians and singers, had avid fans of 80s rock dancing in their seats for six years. The show’s success led to the creation of Broadway’s Rock of Ages, a concert performance of music from the Broadway show, performed by original Broadway musicians and singers. While it’s been years since Rock of Ages left the Broadway stage and decades since the heyday of 80s rock, for many who grew up in the “Decade of Excess” their love of 80s music has never died. And, this musical era has had a resurgence due in part to millennials who’ve discovered the high-energy rock and roll sound. With this continued interest, it’s no wonder Broadway’s Rock of Ages remains a hit.
This enthusiasm brought a crowd of eager fans to Carteret PAC, regardless of the impending weather. A scan across the venue gave an indication of the generationally diverse audience. There were fans who were likely children when the music was released, others who were probably young adults and attended original 80s concerts (some of whom brought along their teenagers to share in the 80s music experience) and a smattering of classic-rock-loving 20-somethings mixed in the crowd. However, what all present had in common was their enthusiasm for 80s rock music, as evidenced by the tremendous cheers and applause as the Broadway’s Rock of Ages musicians arrived onstage.
The band has a rotating cast of musicians and singers, which on this evening included, Joel Hoekstra and Tommy Kessler on guitar, Winston Roye on bass, Jason Gianni on drums and Jonathan Ivie on keyboards, as well as vocalists MiG Ayesa and Josephine Rose Roberts. Each artist has an impressive resume of musical experiences well beyond their Rock of Ages days. Their incredible skills were immediately apparent from opening number “Eruption,” from Van Halen’s debut album, showcasing the quintessential sound of 80s rock. This powerful guitar solo piece was followed by Poison’s “Nothing’ But a Good Time” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” both spirited, come-to-party, rock hits. Singer MiG Ayesa quickly took command of the stage and the microphone, with his dramatic, high-octane spirit and his intensely passionate vocals. In addition to Broadway, Ayesa has showcased these vocals in performances across the world, including London’s West End.
Lest one think all of the powerful vocals were sung by Ayesa, Josephine Rose Roberts displayed an impressively dynamic vocal range while singing lead on Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” as well as Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and Joan Jett and the Blackheart’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Beyond her formidable vocals, Roberts demonstrated attention-grabbing rock and roll vibes, from her fierce facial expressions, to her spirited movement about the stage, to the tossing of her long curls. Robert’s skills have thrilled audiences during “Cats” 25th Anniversary tour and on TV’s “The Electric Company.”
Roberts was not the only one with eye-catching hair, matched with impressive musical abilities. Joel Hoekstra, former member of Night Ranger and current member of Whitesnake and TSO is not only a stunning guitar player but a consummate hair-flipper. One has to look no further than Hoekstra to witness guitar-playing passion. Hoekstra performed with intensity born out of years of energy and devotion invested in expanding and diversifying his skillset. However, there was never a doubt Hoekstra was also having an equally great rocking time, as he repeatedly flipped his long mane, posed with his flowing locks of hair, and maintained focus on his dynamic finger movements on his Gibson guitar, during numbers including Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” and Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”
While the members of Broadway’s Rock of Ages do not perform together on a consistent tour schedule, the communication and connection between them was seamless. There was choreography to their movements, as various band members traveled about the stage, uniting at moments to jam on their guitars, sing alongside one another and animatedly perform in pairs. Each musician was an integral part of the band, with various members having opportunities to showcase their individual talents. Gianni, an accomplished drummer, author and instructor, demonstrated his phenomenal expertise on the drums during an extended solo, while left alone onstage to captivate the audience with the passionate, rhythmic beats of his flying drumsticks.
Whether performing on his acoustic or electric guitar, Kessler, guitarist for Blondie, exuded a sense of inner joy, with a sweet smile on his face, a gleam in his eyes, and a tilt to his head. As he passionately played his guitar he slowly glided about the stage, stopping to jam alongside the lead singers, as well as with Roye, who migrated to the front of the stage to showcase his impressive skills on bass. Roye, a bassist, singer and multi-instrumentalist has performed and recorded with a variety of artists around the world, including playing for the award winning Soul Asylum. Ivie, the former musical director for Rock of Ages on Broadway, displayed enthusiastic facial expressions and energetic arm movements as he played the keyboards with gusto.
The audience was enthusiastically engaged throughout the two-hour performance, as they cheered, sang along, and danced. The show’s additional songs included, Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive,” Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believin,” Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn,” and Damn Yankee’s “High Enough.” As the band returned for the encore, Ayesa announced that the next song was a dedication. Inviting a woman to the front of the theater, where she was joined by her euphoric beau, the two slow danced to the beautiful lyrics of “More Than Words.” The evening ended with the high-energy, sing-a-long, AC/DC number, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” which had Carteret PAC shaking in classic 80s style. What an amazing night of nostalgic 80s rock, performed by incredibly skilled musicians and singers. With smiles on our faces and music in our hearts we exited the theater. The rain was gone, the skies were clear, and no tornadoes had swept through our area. We were truly blessed.