By Patty Booth O’Neill, OCEANPORT – A must-see play adapted for the Maple Place School, Oceanport middle school level. The show opens with charismatic narrator Lonny Barnett (played by Alex McMillan) introducing the characters of Rock of Ages one by one, who then break into an high-energy rendition of “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, accurately describing the current state of their lives at the time.
“We started working on this play in 2020,” said Erica Bach, producer and in charge of music. Erica and Director DJ Brown have been working together for 16 years producing plays at Maple Place School. “We began production of Rock of Ages two years but had to stop because of COVID,” she said. She added that some of the kids who started the play then have since graduated and when rehearsals began again, news kids had to replace them. “The good news is that the kids who have been here since the beginning now have more experience under their belts. We have a great crew this year.”
It’s a story everyone can related to these days. The theme of Rock of Ages revolves around Sherri Christian, (played by 8th grader Lucy Hester, a small-town girl who travels to Hollywood with dreams of making it big as a rock star, and Drew Boley (8th grader Declan Drucker) who Sherri meets when she arrives in Hollywood.
“It’s been fun doing plays at Maple Place,” Declan said and admitted that he is usually interested in sports. “My mom said I should try acting and over the years I’ve developed my acting skills.”
Drew, who also has ambitions of becoming a rock star works at The Dupree Room owned by Dennis Dupree (8th grader Augie Zilincar), where he gets Sherri a job. But the future of The Dupree Room is being threatened by Mayor Mike Whitmore (7th grader Grayden Peto) who wants to clean up area. And then there’s the German businesswoman Hilda Klinermann (7th grader Ava Usatin) who has her sights set on tearing down The Dupree Room to build a strip mall. She is accompanied by her son Franz (7th grader Eamon Drucker).
Hester, who plays Sherri, said she’s looking forward to opening night. “I’m really excited to be doing Rock of Ages this year because it got canceled when I was in 6th grade.” She said she has older siblings who also acted in plays at Maple Place. “Doing the play helped me make a lot of new friends and made me come out of my comfort zone. The play helped me grow as a person.”
Auggie Zilincar (Dupree) began his acting career at Count Basie in Beauty and the Beast. “It’s helped me a lot, it’s a good way to express myself. I really love acting at Maple Place,” he said. Definitely the best part of my middle school career.”
Everyone who hangs or works at The Dupree Room is bummed out about loosing their favorite establishment and protesters take to the streets led by Regina (8th grader Devan Schiavo). The Dupree Room is an iconic venue where wanna-be rockers hone their skills and dreams of becoming famous, which did happen to local talent, now famous rock star Stacee Jaxx (Owen Smock).
The question is will the famous, busy and self absorbed Jaxx come back to The Dupree Room to perform a free concert to raise money and help save the day? You’ll have to go see the play and find out what happens to all the characters. (Does anyone else become a star? Does someone fall in love? Is the Dupree Room saved?) Bring the family to find and and to watch the amazing performances of these talented kids.
A big part of making this play such a huge success are the people behind the scenes such as Heather Daley in charge of the stage crew. Patty Cooper, who was in charge of costumes caught the personality of each player and the era, and in charge of set design was Alex Canessa.
“DJ Brown is amazing, he is so creative and his energy with the children is electric,” said Bach talking about the director. (He is the personification of Lights, Cameras, Action!) “Were so excited about everybody coming out after not having a performance here since 2019.
The performances are this Friday at 7pm and Saturday at 1pm at Maple Place School. Tickets are $8.00 in advance and can be purchased by going to mpnj.booktix.com. At the door the cost is $10.00.