Nobody feels the noize like Marshall Keating, music director for the 10th anniversary tour of “Rock of Ages.”
He’s in the thick of the retooled jukebox musical built around the hard-rockin’ music of the ’80s, from Foreigner and Bon Jovi to Whitesnake, Poison, Twisted Sister and more. It’s coming to the Des Moines Civic Center for five performances Friday (3/8) to Sunday (3/10).
Nominated for five Tony Awards, the show is set in a bar on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, when a legendary singer returns to play one final gig. Waiting in the wings is an aspiring songwriter who falls hard for a waitress waiting for her big break, too. Naturally, plenty of conflict arises on-and offstage.
The action plays out to such retro rock ’n’ rollers as “Cum on Feel the Noize,” “Sister Christian,” “We Built This City,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Harden My Heart,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Renegade” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Keating, 40, a Minnesota native now based in New York, worked with the original production from January to August 2014, ending in Singapore. While the crowds weren’t big in his final stop in Southeast Asia, “those who were there absolutely loved it,” he said by phone from a recent tour stop in Columbus, Ga.
He signed up last spring for the revamped anniversary tour, which launched in October and continues through June.
If you’ve seen the show before, set those visions aside.
“Everything is new except for the (musical) arrangements and the book,” Keating said.
That includes the costumes and rock-concert lighting.
“The lights are crazy,” he added, and the set pieces transform out of boxes.
Keating transforms throughout the show, too, serving as conductor and keyboard player. But that’s not all. He helped prepare the singers for the tour, and now that they’re on the road, he’s responsible for his other four bandmates — two guitarists, a drummer and a bass player — making sure they know the music and cuing them correctly.
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“I also run 14 pieces of gear up at my little keyboard station,” he said, including a click track that the lights are cued to, a keyboard with sounds, a computer that runs sound through the keyboard, a variety of pedals and a video monitor.
“It’s a lot, but it’s very rhythmic, my job. It’s very similar to choreography,” he said. “Once it starts, I have my patterns, and as long as I stay in my groove, it goes very well.”
In the show’s original form, the band was at the back of the stage, in full view of the audience the whole time.
“In this version, because there’s more surprises involved, we actually get to appear in moments that we should be there and we disappear when we’re not supposed to be there,” he said. “So we are present when we should be. For the bows, the last 30 seconds of music is just the band onstage rocking out, so we definitely have our moments to shine and feel the screams.”
That also means the band is in costumes capturing the headbanging ’80s look.
“The fun part is, the other gentlemen I work with — the other four instrumentalists — are actual rock players,” Keating said, “so three of them have long dark hair, one of them has a shaved head with a long goatee.
“I am the lucky one who gets to wear a giant Mr. Bigwig,” he said with a laugh. “I get to lose brain cells when it’s a little too hot in the theater — then I start messing up because my brain can’t function anymore.”
He’s having fun, however, rediscovering the music of his older brothers’ teen years, some of which he heard by default growing up in North Branch, Minn., about 50 minutes north of St. Paul. He’s the only full-time musician among the five brothers, but they all still play gigs on occasion.
They grew up in a musical household, with parents who sang and played guitars in a band in east-central Minnesota, covering everything from country to disco in the ’70s and ’80s. Their father still plays at summer festivals and their mom comes out of retirement to play at church events and at the nursing home where she used to work.
Keating, number four of the five boys, showed promise at an early age.
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“I remember being in the car when I was very little, probably 8 maybe, and my mother was trying to explain to my father how harmony worked. My father knows music theory really well, and my mother is incredibly musically gifted,” he said. While his dad was struggling trying to sing a third above the melody on “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” young Marshall, who was sitting behind him in the back seat, would sing along in his head.
All the kids studied piano until eighth grade, and Keating went on to major in music and minor in education in college.
He’s on the faculty at a musical theater training program in New York City, and on another side track, he’s “devoted” to writing music with one of his brothers. They’re currently working on a children’s musical based on Aesop’s fables.
Hopefully, that project will have a happy ending.
WHAT: “Rock of Ages” 10th anniversary tour
WHERE: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday (3/8); 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (3/9); 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (3/10)
TICKETS: $36 to $126, Civic Center Box Office, (515) 246-2300 or Desmoinesperformingarts.org/events/1819-rock-of-ages/
EXTRA: Q&A with company members after the 7 p.m. Saturday show
SHOW’S WEBSITE: Rockofagesmusicaltour.com/#home
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org