BANGOR, Maine — Over a year ago, the Penobscot Theatre Company mailed a number of items to Samuel French Inc., a theatrical licensing and publishing company in New York that holds the rights to the rock musical “Rock of Ages.”
The package contained a plea, comprising the show’s song titles, a variety of Maine rocks from the Rock and Art Shop in Bangor and a clever letter filled with descriptions of Maine’s scenery. The small professional theater company from Bangor, Maine, wanted to be the first professional company to stage “Rock of Ages” in the Pine Tree State.
Mary Budd, executive director of Penobscot Theatre Company, and Bari Newport, producing artistic director, thought their package might just sway the rights holders to say yes.
“We endeavored — kind of against all odds, because Ogunquit [Playhouse] was planning on doing this — to get the rights to this so that we were not the second company to do this in the state but the first,” Newport said.
Ultimately, the efforts worked. Now, the PTC is gearing up for the Maine premiere of the production, which will be staged at the Bangor Opera House from June 9 to July 2. Budd said she imagines it was PTC’s “chutzpah, our moxie and our creative tenacity,” that convinced the rights holders they could put on a show they would be proud of.
“Rock of Ages,” a Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, features hit music from the 1980s, including songs from popular acts such as Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison and more. It’s staged with a live, onstage band named Arsenal. The cast includes five band members and 16 other cast members. And much like many of the characters these actors and actresses will portray, they’re performers.
For actress Christie Robinson, a 32-year-old originally from Bucksport, her character Sherrie is relatable to many.
“She’s just a good ol’ girl with a dream, and that’s what I love about her,” Robinson said. “She takes a big risk and leaves her little town to go to [Los Angeles] and become a star. It’s about a dream — a love of music and a dream. I think she’s relatable to a lot of people.”
Perhaps most important is that Robinson relates to her character on a personal level.
“I’m originally from Bucksport — a very small town — and being the only artsy person in my family, having to explain what my life is and what I do is really hard sometimes. I made a big move to Florida, left my friends, family and theater company, in pursuit of a dream.”
Robinson is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in theater and acting performance at the University of Florida.
“The general misconception that people have is that acting is only pursued seriously in New York or Los Angeles. Of course, those places are massive, and many people go there to be ‘stars.’ However, to me, a working actor is a successful actor. Location doesn’t really matter, as long as one is booking consistent roles,” Robinson said in an email.
But it isn’t just the characters who are relatable. For the actors and actresses at PTC, this show tells a story some of them are familiar with.
“It’s all about dreams and realizing that dreams are reality,” said Alekzander Sayers, who plays the character Franz, a German developer and son of Hertz, played by actor Neil Graham.
“I still have family who ask me what I’m doing with my life, and I’m like ‘this — this is what I’m doing,’” Sayers said. He is one of many in the cast who have found bringing these characters to life an exciting journey that parallels their own in many ways.
But for every dreamer there is a villain. Graham plays the character Hertz, a “megalomaniac real estate developer,” he said.
“If there was a villain in this show, it would probably be him,” Graham said.
“I was brought up at the age that the main characters were. This show has captured that time period. This show is able to bridge the gap between somebody my age and somebody [actress Catie Forthofer’s] age. Both are able to pull that joy from that time period,” Graham, who is in his 40s, said, referring to Forthofer, a 20-year-old who plays Constance. It’s her first professional production.
Actor Bob Potts’ two characters, Mayor and Ja’Keith, acts as a roadblock on the way to the success of the lead characters, Drew (Ira Kramer) and Sherrie (Robinson).
“For both of my characters, it’s about money at the end of the day,” Potts, a 49-year-old Maine native, said. “My characters mostly exist to help the leads come to their own realizations — that they have to follow their dreams and that it’s not always about money.”
That’s a realization that hits close to home for Potts. When Potts was young, he considered applying to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York but put his dreams on hold.
“I feel like I’m living vicariously through them,” Potts said of the younger actors and actresses in the show. “My dad, who was a Korean War vet and worked in the mill, said, ‘If you do that, you’ll wait tables your whole damn life.’ And I thought, ‘yeah, he’s probably right.’”
Potts instead focused on a career in broadcasting and later marketing. But eventually he found his way back to acting.
Potts has been part of the cast for a variety of shows with Penobscot Theatre Company, including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Annie” and “Cinderella: A New Telling of an Old Tale.” He also has performed with Ten Bucks Theatre and in the Bangor Rotary Club’s annual music show, “Music Off Broadway.” He currently works in public relations and communications for Emera Maine.
“Being in this with all these people just does something for my soul,” he said.
Above all, though, this show is a good time — though it may not be suitable for all audiences. Some parts can be a little risque, the cast said.
“It’s that point in the year where the weather in Maine is finally starting to change,” Budd said. “There’s almost a visible lifting of spirits across the community. And what better way to celebrate than with a big musical? It’s for this region and for the people here who want to come together for an unforgettable time.”
This is the seventh and final production for the PTC’s 2015-2016 season.
Tickets for “Rock of Ages” can be purchased online at penobscottheatre.org, by phone at 207-942-3333 or at the box office at the Bangor Opera House.