Sam Harvey wasn't alive during the heyday of the hair-metal music in “Rock of Ages.” But donning a long blond wig, the 26-year-old Cornhusker has the time of his life in a lead role in the musical's national tour, coming to the Adler Theatre Sunday.
“I'm pretty much obsessed with the show,” Harvey — a native of Scottsbluff, Neb., near the Wyoming border — said in a recent phone interview. “It's just really fun. I don't get sick of it. Even if I'm not having a great day, the music starts and I can't help but have a great time.”
That's a good thing, because the man who's touring as exuberant veteran rock star Stacee Jaxx has performed in the celebration of '80s hits more than 400 times, since 2015.
Harvey has played Drew on the cruise ship Norwegian Breakaway production, in three six-month runs, in 2015, 2017, and 2018. And he's been Stacee for previous four-week sets in 2016 and 2018, before embarking on the show's 10th-anniversary national tour last October, to run through June 19.
In the show — which was done at Moline's Black Box Theatre in August 2017 — it’s 1987 on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip when a small-town girl meets a big-city rocker. As they fall in love in L.A.’s most famous rock club, “Rock of Ages” allows fans to revel again in their favorite ‘80s hits.
Featuring the music of iconic bands such as Styx, Poison, Foreigner, Twisted Sister, and Whitesnake among others, the show opened April 7, 2009 on Broadway and played more than 2,300 performances, earning five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.
The show also had successful national and international tours and, in 2012, was turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx. Stacee sings lead on “Dead or Alive,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and a mashup of “Heat of the Moment” and “I Hate Myself for Loving you.”
“There's so much music, over 20 '80s rock anthems,” Harvey said.
“Stacee is totally the opposite of my personality," he said. "I'm awkward, and I get to be different. I live in the '80s now every night." A review of a November 2018 performance, at palmbeachdailynews.com said:
“Directed with verve by Martha Banta with choreography by Janet Rothermel, the show rockets along, set against an industrial-looking background augmented by mini-sets that pop out of rolling cases.”
“John-Michael Breen makes a puckish Lonny who can belt out a tune with gusto. Sam Harvey’s Stacee Jaxx is decadently sexy.”
"I've learned a lot from Stacee; his confidence is great," Harvey said. "If I could take away 10 percent of Stacee's confidence, put that into any audition, I'd probably be a much better person. Stacee is unabashedly himself."
While Harvey did theater in high school, he toyed with the idea of playing collegiate football, but went with his gut, packed up his bags, and moved to New York City to pursue his passion of performing.
“I used high school as an opportunity to do everything I possibly could,” Harvey said, noting he was a varsity running back and defensive back. “I was fortunate to live in a small enough town." Sports and theater have “their own separate thrill, rush of adrenaline,” he said.
Harvey had never been to New York before he enrolled in the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, after auditioning in Kansas City.
“On the plane, I had a moment of anxiety, what if I just hate being in New York City?" he recalled. "I got there, fell in love with it. I was very fortunate for an 18-year-old, knowing what I wanted to do.”
"It was a really cool experience," he said, noting he also spent summers in New York. His first regional production after graduation, when he turned 21, was in Springboro, Ohio, where he played Rolf in “The Sound of Music,” and his parents came to see him.
Another memorable role was Zack Morris in an Off-Broadway New York parody of “Saved By the Bell,” called “Bayside! The Musical!” “It was supposed to be two months, and got extended for three years,” Harvey said of the run from 2013 to 2016. “People loved it; it became this instant hit. It was just word of mouth. People love nostalgia. I make my living off nostalgia.”
“It's the reason anyone likes theater – you get to get away for a couple hours." Of "Rock of Ages," he said: "This show, it takes you back to a time you remember so fondly.”
“It has a really cool message in the show...The narrator says, some of the dreams you come in with may not be dreams you leave with. But in the end, they still rock.”
Harvey met a superfan who loves the show even more than he does — Abe Calimag, from Virginia, who saw "Rock of Ages" for his 700th time in Baltimore.
"We brought him up on stage, let him sign our set," Harvey said. "I talked to him; he just doesn't get sick of it. He likes to see variations. He knows it word for word.”
"We're having a great time; you go through a tough schedule," he said. "We're with each other all the time. We're very fortunate we all like each other, spend time in the same hotels, take the same bus. There are a lot of first-time tour people joining me, mid-20s average."
"Cruise life is strange — I like it, any chance I get to be paid to travel," he said, noting his cruises have gone to the Baltics, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Russia.
Harvey's favorite band is Boston. “The lead singer, his voice is so edgy and he sings so high. I love any band with indulgent guitar solos," he said.
For more information on the tour, visit rockofagesmusicaltour.com.