About the author:
Ever since its headbanging opening night in April 2009, Rock of Ages star Adam Dannheisser has been on hand to offer words of wisdom, lots of laughs and rocking riffs as Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Bourbon Room, in the ‘80s rock musical. Although he’s been cracking wise as Dennis for nearly five years (longer than any other cast member!), Dannheisser was previously known for more serious Broadway fare, including Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, The Tempest and Cymbeline. Below, the actor recounts his many “first times” while starring in Rock of Ages, including his first rehearsal with American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis, his first boob signing and more.
Well, it's true—there is a first time for everything. First day of school, first kiss, first skin tag. Most of these firsts we have come to expect (although the skin tag thing threw me for a total f**king loop.) The other first that I could not have anticipated for myself: First time a “straight theater" actor finds himself in a hit ROCK MUSICAL. To be clear—for you non-theatrical types that happen to be trolling Broadway theater websites longing for fluffy anecdotal narratives desperately in need of editing—“straight theater” as opposed to “musical theater.”
You see, before I was cast in the original company of Rock of Ages almost five—gulp—years ago, my theatrical bio read like the Cliffs Notes section of the Barnes and Noble. (Wait, do they still have Cliffs Notes? Wait, do they still have Barnes and Noble?) The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Awake and Sing!, Henry V, Henry VIII, Cymbeline (who?), The Coast of Utopia (I needed Cliffs Notes while I was DOING that one). OK, full disclosure, I did the national tour of Contact—which won the Tony for Best Musical in 2000—but don't get the purists started on THAT one. I was responsible for chirping out the only “sung" line of music in that play. Went fine most nights. Sang it flat on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. (Very nerve-wracking experience, telethons.)
Anyhoo, I never truly fashioned myself a musical theater kinda guy, but there I was—another first—first day of rehearsal. Sitting in a vocal room with a tape recorder from, not kidding, 1984. It was older than half the cast. You know, the kind that you have to hit record and play at the same time? Not just record, but record and play at the SAME TIME. Shaky fingers beware.
“Open your music and let's start from the top”, our talented arranger, Ethan Popp, laterally lisped over his tongue stud. (He was also younger than my tape recorder, I believe.) Open my…? Where am I?? It's warm in here. Where's Tom Stoppard!?! Record AND play. Sh*t. Hey, that American Idol is looking at me—oh no, wait, he's looking just past me—the altos are seated to my left.
I had watched Constantine Maroulis on Idol (back when it was fun to watch Idol) in 2005—unemployed and in my underwear with my wife and newborn baby lying on my chest. Just my baby, not my wife. I remember being in total awe of his confidence and ability. Constantine, not my baby. And there he sat—reading his New York Post, sipping his iced coffee, and killing the vocals when called upon to do so. I came to learn that's a good thing—“killing the vocals.” Everyone seemed to be killing it that afternoon while images of Jerry Lewis danced in my head. Not sure how I made it through the day.
But with each subsequent day, I grew more confident as I encountered more firsts. Turns out I was not alone. We were all finding our way together—several first-time producers, first-time New York theatrical creatives, even first-time paid actors—all of us conspiring to make this thing that no one thought would fly, could fly—fly. It was our combined enthusiasm, our naïveté, our optimism, our deference to each others' skills that buoyed us along. We were all feeling our “first-ness” together. If the room had been filled with tons of money, opinions, stress, expectation, entitlement and judgment, I would not be writing this today. I've been sitting on Broadway for a while now. And from this rather unique vantage point, have watched much come and go. Things grow when they are given space—when form and tradition bend to accommodate something new.
There have been a thousand exciting firsts for me over the run of this show. A fascinating ride. Screaming crowds, power outages, missed entrances, contagious laughers, drunken bra-flingers, wild parties, rock stars, sports stars, Tony Awards, practical jokes, James Carpinello's bitch eyes, unscripted hilarity, loyal superfans. And I'll tell you what, no one ever asked me to sign a boob at the stage door of Lincoln Center. Here’s to firsts! Now, where's my damn Sharpie?