In the realm of rock, you can’t reach much further ends of the sonic spectrum than the sheen of ’80s hair metal and the soulful garage R&B sounds of Seattle’s own Pickwick. Well that all changed this week.
Pickwick’s golden-voiced singer Galen Disston is taking on the lead role of Drew Boley, the aspiring rocker and Sunset Strip bar busboy, in 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of the hair metal jukebox musical, Rock of Ages (previews begin Feb. 1, with the show officially running Feb. 8–24). It’s Disston’s first foray into acting, but thankfully the show’s crowd-pleasing cheesiness doesn’t require him to be Fred Astaire or Nathan Lane — it only asks him to hit the high notes on tunes like Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”
We caught up with Disston to chat about his intro to the theatrical world, a lack of genre familiarity, and exiting comfort zones.
What led you to Rock of Ages?
They reached out to me via Facebook message before last summer. They said, “Would you be interested in coming in and auditioning?” And I said, “Are you sure? I can’t dance, and I’ve never acted at all. And I don’t read music.” [Laughs] I’m like a trifecta of a steep learning curve.
You’re the triple no-threat.
So I met with the music director for like 15 minutes — he went over the songs because I don’t read [music]. And then they gave me some scenes, which I hadn’t seen before, and I read them. And then after that initial tryout I was kinda like, you know, this would be fun. I never really thought about doing this before, but this is an incredible opportunity. So I practiced the songs, reread the scenes, and then came in [to audition] one more time. And then while I was washing windows at my day job, they sent me an email [saying I got the part].
Were you a fan of musicals or is that an area you never really delved that much into?
Never really delved that much into. Because STG has been generous to me in the past, I was able to see The Book of Mormon. And that was kind of my first intro into a style of musical theater that I can relate to — campy, irreverent. Rock of Ages feels very much in line with that.
So coming from that novice background, what have been the hurdles you’ve faced getting ready for this role?
This is my first experience going through this rehearsal schedule. It’s very intense. It’s six days a week, eight hours a day. The learning curve has been crazy steep. At first, I think I had a concept of sitting in a room and singing with all the other singers, and then we took that out to the rehearsal space. And I was like wait a minute, we’re going to do this while I’m moving? [Laughs] And I’m going to have to interpret these words in my face and in my body and there’s some choreography? So all of that came as a difficult shock — not that I didn’t anticipate it, but it’s definitely not natural for me. It’s been hard. But after about two-and-a-half weeks, I’m starting to have fun. I’m not worried about my lines in the same way. I’m not worried about my voice in the same way.
Do you have a favorite number in the show?
The song “High Enough.” It’s my getting my toes into a musical duet moment.
How into ‘80s hair metal were you growing up? Do you have a favorite band or song from the era?
But I did make a playlist of all the originals [performed in the show] to try and see where I could kind of interpret and make a better connection point, because listening to the Rock of Ages soundtrack didn’t really inform anything. It just kind of confused me. Like how am I going to get to these theatrical heights? It’s a totally different world. But then listening to the originals — like Steve Perry — I can’t hit all the notes that he can hit, but I love how much ease he has when he sings. I have this newfound respect for all those bands as songwriters, very talented singers, and performers. It’s cool to try and make that my own.
That makes sense. So much of Rock of Ages is kind of a knowing wink and a nod to that musical era, so if you don’t have that reference point it’s a little like listening to a Weird Al parody when you don’t know the original. Like, this is funny, but I feel like it’d be even funnier if I was familiar with the pop song he was parodying.
You’re right. That’s a really good metaphor.
Is there anything you’ve learned doing the show that you think you’d carry over to Pickwick?
I think just the general experience of getting out of my comfort zone has been really good for me as a person. I’m not really sure how that will manifest itself in Pickwick and beyond. But just in general, I’m pretty accustomed to being relatively good at most of the things I do in my life, you know what I mean? I’m a decent father. I’m a decent husband. I’m pretty good at Pickwick. But nothing about this experience has been familiar and comfortable, which is nice.
It’s such an amazing opportunity that The 5th has afforded me and entrusted to me, so I’m not taking that lightly and I’ve been working really hard. But I am a limited performer, and it’s been fun to work within to have those expectations. To have like the director make sarcastic jokes about my dancing while still being very encouraging. She knows that I’m scared shitless.
Rock of Ages
February 1–24 | 5th Avenue Theatre | $29–$170 | 5thavenue.org