Michael Danek comes to Washington frequently—he has friends and relatives here in the suburbs and it’s not that far away from New York where he lives when he’s not on the road, which is often.
But he hasn’t been at the National Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue in a long time in a professional capacity.
Not since he was Harry.
Not since he was an actor in the legendary “Hello Dolly,” with the legendary Carol Channing back on 1978.
“You know the song, right,” he says in a phone interview, “the title song where everyone’s singing ‘Hello Dolly’ by way of greeting. Well, back then I was one of the waiters that comes on, guy named Harry, and she sings ‘Well, hello, Harry…’”
“That was pretty cool,” he says. “And Carol Channing, well, she was something, no question.”
Well Harry, that is, Michael, is back at the National Theatre, only this time, as stage manager for the touring company. He’s running the whole show – the show being “Rock of Ages,” the hit Broadway show about a bunch of kids finding love and music, 1980’s style.
Put another way, it’s a long way from “Hello Dolly” to “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” the iconic femme rock song sung by Pat Benatar in the 1980s. It’s a long way from the music of Jerry Hermann to Styx, or for that matter, from bustles to Afros.
“Yeah, it’s different,” Danek said. “But one things the same, they’re both big shows, big hits.”
Danek, who switched from being a performer (including long runs in “A Chorus Line”) in the 1980s, to stage managing, from onstage to backstage, couldn’t be happier. “I had a good run,” he said. “Especially the Chorus Line gig, because that was one of the most original Broadway shows ever. There’s nothing like it, so many talented people in it.”
But as stage manager, he’s basically responsible for running the show on the road, the pacing, the calling, the scheduling, getting people squared away, making sure everything runs as smoothly as it should. “The director’s going to call in, but once a show, a play gets on stage, the director basically is finished,” he said. “It’s my job now that this tour, which is pretty hectic, goes smoothly, how the company and the sets and everything work in relation to the size of the venue. Every place is a little different.”
“I love this show,” he says. “I guess it’s sort of part of my musical memory. Sure, so the music is great, but everybody in it is super. This is a great cast, a great group of people, enthusiastic as all get out. I know sometimes in road shows you get performers that sort of coast or wing it. Not here. These guys and girls, they make it fresh every night, they work like fiends.”
“And then there’s the equipment,” he says. “There’s a lot of amps, you could say it’s loud, but then the music was loud and the hair was big. Bring ear plugs.”
He continued, “We’re unloading five trucks, including the sound stuff, and the amps, so yeah, it’s a lot to get down right. And yeah, there’s a lot of hair.”
“Rock of Ages” is huge in the minds of its fans, everywhere they go. “You’ve got to like living on the road,” he says. “Especially on this show. It’s a short run show, nothing more than a month, most of it less. We had a nice run in San Francisco, with a little more leisure time. But basically you’ve got to be cool about packing up, living in hotels, out you go again kind of thing.”
Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame is the headliner in this version, which weaves comedy and romance with a young cast of actors, singers and performers through a rich bag of 1980s hits. It runs at the national through July 24. Kristin Hanggi, who snagged a Tony Award nomination for her work on “Rock of Ages” directs. “We’re in touch pretty much constantly,” Danek says. “If there’s a problem that she needs to deal with, we talk.”
The tour includes Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Des Moines, Kansas City, Fort Laudesrdale, Clearwater, Houston and Dallas among its 15 stops. “I’ve been with the show since January,” he said. “It’s been a great ride, no kidding.”
And “Rock of Ages” is soon – in 2012 – coming to a theater near you. You’ve probably seen the clips of Tom Cruise in bare-chest vest for the movie version. “He plays an aging rocker,” Danek said. “He came backstage during the tour. He was really nice, posed for pictures with everyone, very cool guy.”
Folks come for the love story, but mostly, and most likely for the music. Songs include the anthem-like “Anyway You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believing” from Journey’s salad days, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison “I Wanna Rock” from the wonderfully named Twisted Sister, David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” Styx’s “Renegade,” Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.”
“I’m not sorry about not performing, I don’t miss it,” Danek said. “This is theater, too and it’s the life that I picked. It’s the nuts and bolts stuff. Every night and every place is different.”
“Rock of Ages” started out in Los Angeles, performed four times in two days at King, then was performed once at the Warner Brothers Soundstage in LA before formally opening in LA at the Vanguard Hollywood for six weeks. In 2006, it had a limited run at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, then hit off-Broadway in 2008. In April of 2009, it opened at the prestigious Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway. It has since toured nationally, and opened in productions in Korea and Melbourne.
“Rock of Ages” indeed.