Nelson singer Anna Backus wasn’t even born when 1980s rock anthems “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and “The Final Countdown” came out. But now she’s giving herself a crash course in all things Pat Benatar and Def Leppard.
“It was obviously a crazy, ugly time,” Backus, who has been cast as Sherrie in the upcoming musical Rock of Ages, told the Star. “Everyone looks like they went through their worst clothes and threw them all on at once, but then at the same time it’s so cool I kind of wish it would all come back.”
And in a way, it has: from May 26 to 29 the 19-person cast will attempt to resurrect the era in the crowd-pleasing spectacle, the fourth from Black Productions following Cabaret, Chicago and last year’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Along with male leads Ty Wright and Pat Beauchamp, Backus will belt out tunes by Whitesnake, Joan Jett and Twisted Sister.
And man, it’s hard to hit some of those high notes.
“For me it’s challenging because mostly I’m used to singing nice jazz, pop songs into a microphone on stage, and I don’t have to have too much power,” Backus said. “In this I’m singing on top of 20 other people and I still need to be felt and have a stage presence.”
Backus works as a yoga instructor and receptionist, while Wright is a nursing student and Beauchamp manages Maglio Building Centre in Trail. But twice a week, during rehearsals at Selkirk College’s Tenth St. campus, they’re rockstars.
“It’s all about the attitude,” said Wright, who plays Stacee Jaxx — a role recently played by Tom Cruise in the movie adaptation. “Stacee is an anomaly. He’s just so out there you have to leave yourself behind and lose yourself in the craziness.”
Wright’s favourite song, “Dead or Alive,” by Bon Jovi, features Wright writhing around onstage with scantily clad groupies played by Marleah Staten, Emma Kjelson, Molly Strachan and Nicole Courson — as well as producer Sydney Black, who was recently named executive director of Nelson’s arts council.
Dancers Marleah Staten, Nicole Courson, Molly Strachan and Emma Kjelson
And everyone’s having a great time.
“I’m not a stranger to the stage, because I’ve been playing music with multiple groups over the last ten years,” said Beauchamp. “But to go from being a father of two boys, changing diapers, to two hours later being a rockstar?”
He’s ready for it.
“I feel like I was made for this role. The storyline is similar to what I lived, you know? Me and my buddies were going to make it big. But then I fell in love, started having kids.”
So he’s happy to get a chance to “rebel yell.”
“The whole ‘80s screaming thing, I didn’t really know I could do it until I started trying. I’ve surprised myself a few times,” said Beauchamp. “I’ve never been in a drama or a play, either, so I’ve got all this choreography and suddenly I’m learning lines.”
But director Lisel Forst gave him what he needs to tackle the role, while he’s worked with choreographer Mackenzie Hope and musical director Rick Lingard.
“They’ve really been good at bringing us up, making us comfortable,” Beauchamp said.
Still, it can feel like a lot of pressure. For Wright, who has performed in multiple Black Productions and appeared in a variety of Capitol shows, this is his first real lead role.
“It feels super fantastic knowing Syd put that trust in me, but it’s also super nerve-wracking,” said Wright, who recently lost 50 pounds and is currently bathing himself in spray tanner.
“They told me right off the bat — you’re going to need spray tan, lots and lots of spray tan,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to get the physicality, even just singing and dancing together can be a challenge, but I think I’m up to it.”
Rock of Ages will be performed at the Capitol Theatre, and will feature Selkirk College students and community members in the cast and live band.
Backus feels extremely fortunate to have opportunities like this in Nelson.
“We’re so fortunate to have Selkirk College and Black Productions here locally, and through all of these experiences they’ve been amazing. We feel so lucky.”
Star reporter Will Johnson is a Rock of Ages cast member.