With power chords and big hair, Conver proves '80s are alive
Turn back the clock to the 1980s. Jon Conver sat in his basement in Atlanta and watched MTV for hours, particularly loving the music of Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Poison, Warrant, Aerosmith and ... well, you get the picture.
"I loved the gritty rock 'n' roll and power ballads," Conver says.
Early in his acting career, Conver hoped and envisioned someday playing a role in "Rock of Ages," the story of the wannabe rocker and the small-town girl living in a lonely (but exciting) Los Angeles. It was made popular by the play and the movie starring Diego Boneta (as Drew), Julianne Hough and Tom Cruise. And plenty of theater companies signed up to put on the feel-good 1980s music celebration.
But Conver had to take to the high seas to get his first chance to be in "Rock of Ages," as part of a troupe on board a Norwegian Cruise Line ship touring through Bermuda, the Bahamas and elsewhere last year. Then, when Portland's Stumptown Stages planned to do the story, and he heard about the play through friends, Conver auditioned for the Drew and Stacee Jaxx characters through videotape and was hired as Drew, the wannabe rocker. He has been playing in "Rock of Ages" for Stumptown at Brunish Theatre, a show that has been extended because of its popularity through March 19.
It's quite a thrill for Conver to play a role in "Rock of Ages" not once but twice.
"I am a child of the '80s," says Conver, a Kentucky native who lived in Atlanta and now lives in New York City. "I remember when the show was Off Broadway with New World Stages, and when I saw it I was transported to my basement watching MTV growing up. I was gleeful, had the biggest grin on my face. It was a show I had to do."
Just to be working in general is great, but "Rock of Ages" is fun times.
"If you're fortunate to be working and love the play, why not?" he adds.
"I see a lot of myself in Drew," Conver says, "identifying with his journey in the show, a guy who doesn't really know what he wants out of life, accepting things as they came at him but realizing, 'I don't have to do this, I can get what I want out of life if I just do it.'"
Accompanied by a live band, Conver sings all the hits from the likes of Steve Perry ("Oh Sherrie") and Journey ("Don't Stop Believin'"), Poison ("Every Rose Has Its Thorn"), Foreigner ("I Want to Know What Love Is"), Twisted Sister ("We're Not Gonna Take It"), White Snake ("Here I Go Again") and many more.
Conver, a member of a Led Zeppelin tribute band in New York City, has long hair and doesn't have to wear a wig for Stumptown. He had to "wig it" on the cruise ship production.
His female counterpart is Kelly Stewart, who plays Sherrie, the small-town girl.
The staged "Rock of Ages" focuses more on the lives of Drew and Sherrie, as opposed to the big-screen version which plays up the larger-than-life character Stacee Jaxx.
"There is a spirit to the music of the '80s, it seems like it's about having fun," Conver says. "I was a guy who literally watched (MTV) from the time I woke up till I went to sleep. I knew all the artists, albums, VJs. I could tell you what program it was based on the time it was. All the music of the '80s was in my DNA.
"I wasn't a fan of New Wave, but I became a fan later on. I didn't like the direction of synth pop, but I learned to like it later on in life."
Singing the songs, playing the guitar (at least air guitar), has been enjoyable in "Rock of Ages."
"Oh yes, it's almost like, as weird as it is to say, like going to therapy — doing a show that makes you feel good every night," Conver says. "It's cathartic. It really is a show that speaks to everybody, such a wonderfully constructed show, for being as goofy as it is.
"It's a serious commentary about people's lives and how they lead them."
Conver has other hopes and dreams for his acting career.
He dreams of another tour on a cruise ship playing in "Rock of Ages."
"I like to think I have a rocker in me."
Remaining shows of Stumptown Stages' "Rock of Ages" at the Brunish Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, March 9-11 and March 16-18, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, March 12 and March 19. For tickets: www.StumptownStages.org.