Don’t stop believing: ECU Summer Theatre presents “Rock of Ages”

ECU Summer Theatre is Back!

“Rock of Ages”

June 26-30
McGinnis Theatre
ECU School of Theatre and Dance

Tickets are $35 for the public, $30 for faculty, staff and seniors, and $25 for students and youth.

The show is approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. It contains adult content. Visit the School of Theatre and Dance website for more information.

Immersed in ’80s anthems from bands like Twisted Sister and Bon Jovi, audiences will become part of the MTV revolution at East Carolina University Summer Theatre’s “Rock of Ages,” opening Wednesday in McGinnis Theatre.

The story follows a small-town girl, city boy and a rock ’n’ roll bar on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, where actors and musicians just want to make their dreams come true in 1987.

Director and choreographer Tommi Overcash Galaska, teaching associate professor of dance in ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance, tapped into one of her most iconic memories from that time — watching MTV — for the show’s concept.

“When I think of MTV, I think of Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, Poison and Journey, all those bands, and all those wonderful performers and their fantastic videos,” Galaska said. “It hit me that those videos were a different way to appreciate the music because they became visual. They were like mini musicals.

“I thought, ‘What if MTV was going to present a musical highlighting some of the top rock songs of 1987,’ and that became the theme for me of the show. These performers are here to perform that musical via MTV right here in Greenville.”

Galaska also aimed to connect as many artists and dance moves as possible from the ’80s within the show. “You’ll see, to pay homage, there’s some ‘Beat It’ in there. There’s a little Robert Palmer, ‘Simply Irresistible.’ I’ve tried to link things especially for some of the kids who don’t know. I wanted to pay tribute to those artists as well.”

ECU alumnus Michael Bojtos, left, and ECU associate professor of musical theatre Trent Blanton rehearse “Rock of Ages” in Burnette Studio.

Several ECU alumni have returned to act in the show, including Rocky Mount native Michael Bojtos ’04, who will reprise his role as Lonny Barrett in “Rock of Ages,” which he performed in Broadway’s 10th anniversary national tour.

He started performing in high school and chose ECU because it offered one of the only theatre education majors in the country. He taught for one year at D.H. Conley High School in Greenville before pursuing a full-time musical theater career. He said he intends to return to teaching eventually.

It has been 20 years since Bojtos stood on ECU’s stage in “Hair.” In addition to “Rock of Ages,” he has toured the world in “The Wedding Singer,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Thomas & Friends Live OnStage!” and “Dora’s Pirate Adventure.”

Bojtos said he loves theater because of the audience’s response. Despite having performed “Rock of Ages” over 400 hundred times, it’s different every time because the audience changes with each performance.

“What I learned here, part of the core acting training here, is you can replicate what you’re doing but it’s still new every time. So how do you do the same thing over and over again for the first time?” Bojtos said. “When it’s different people, I can’t make the same reaction because they’re not giving me the same input. They’re doing something completely different than the last person, so I have to respond to what they’re doing. I’m finding there’s all sort of things that I’m doing in this show that I’ve never done before.”

He has stayed in touch with classmates and former professors, visiting Greenville when work allows, but had not returned in an official capacity until now. “This is really like several dreams come true, this contract,” Bojtos said.

Actors listen to director Tommi Overcash Galaska, center, during dress rehearsal in Burnette Studio.

It took a decade before he landed the “Rock of Ages” touring role, he said. “That’s a ‘don’t stop believin’ moment,” he said, in a nod to one of the songs in the show. “I could have stopped at any moment. I could have said, ‘I’m not going to get this. I’m just going to stop auditioning.’ But I didn’t. Because I knew this was my wheelhouse, ’80s musical, ’80s rock music.”

Bojtos knows the music well because his brother, who is 12 years older, jammed to it at home. “When I booked the tour he called me and said, ‘You know you’re living my dream, right?’” Bojtos worked on the “Rock of Ages” 10th anniversary national tour with another ECU graduate, Darrell Purcell Jr. ’12.

Most of the Summer Theatre cast are current students or recent graduates who are joining ECU associate professor of musical theatre Trent Blanton and other professional actors for the five-day run.

Joshua Morrisey of Fayetteville, a musical theatre major, just completed his freshman year at ECU, where he performed in “The Play That Goes Wrong” and “Once on This Island.” He will be taking a gap year to do a national tour with “Mean Girls” starting in July. But first, he will perform as mayor, Ja’Keith and in the “Rock of Ages” ensemble.

“I think the big takeaway is everything is really fast paced, and that’s something that’s still new to me, so I have to really work on studying outside the rehearsal period, so by the time I come back, I’ll know what to do. I’m not getting behind on anything,” Morrisey said

“Rock of Ages” started rehearsals on June 6, leaving just under three weeks to learn, rehearse and perform scenes in two acts with more than 30 songs. “The prep for it is intense,” Galaska said.

“In regular professional theater, you would generally have the same amount of time that we have here,” Bojtos said. “It feels fast for these kids because they usually have several weeks to put on a show, but this is your job. It’s a full day. We knocked out the entire first act in four days. That’s incredibly impressive. You have to be focused. There’s very little time for goofing off and socializing. They instill this work ethic in you. You better be ready to go.”

Jayme Host, director of the ECU School of Theatre and Dance, is producing artistic director and Dan Rutzen is musical director.

Summer theatre began in the school in the 1960s and ended in 2012 due to budget cuts and declining ticket sales. In response to community demand, Host and the school partnered with university advancement on a fundraising campaign to revive summer theatre biennially starting in 2022 with “Mamma Mia!”

ECU Summer Theatre will present “Rock of Ages” June 26-30 in McGinnis Theatre.