Everywhere you look nostalgia is in full bloom. It seems that everything old is in fact new again. Bands, that had once been left to decay as road kill, are not only touring again, but are selling out large amphitheatres from sea to shining sea. Def Leppard, Journey, REO Speedwagon … you name it, and I guarantee you that there is a reunion tour in the works. The scent of money and a bunch of 30-somethings vying to recapture their youth is a tantalizing combination. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this infectious bug would bite Broadway. In the age of jukebox musicals like ‘Jersey Boys’ and ‘Mamma Mia!,’ ‘Rock of Ages’ is a comedic love story about a struggling singer and actress toiling away for their big break on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. The story is deftly told through the careful construction of cheesy hair band hits that defined the 80s. Its a setlist comprised of barnburners like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (Poison), “Here I Go Again” (White Snake) and “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey).
‘Rock of Ages’ debuted at The Vanguard Hollywood in Los Angeles in January 2006 before taking on a Off-Broadway run in 2008-09 then getting its Broadway transfer to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in March 2009. It began its nationwide tour in September 2010 in Chicago, recently wrapped work in Toronto, started a new show in Melbourne and is due for the West End opening later this summer.
‘Rock of Ages’ tells the tale of aspiring rocker Drew (Constantine Maroulis) who is busing tables at The Bourbon Room with his eyes trained on the stage where nightly music acts come passing through. Sherrie (Elicia MacKenzie) is fresh off the bus from Kansas, following her acting dreams. Drew instantly falls for the girl next door in a tight mini skirt, and he convinces the bar’s manager Dennis Dupree (Nick Cordero) to take her on as a waitress. The first sprigs of love shoot up but just as quickly get squashed as Drew’s nice guy personality sweeps him into the dreaded friend zone. Before he can help Sherrie to see his feelings for what they are, rock star Stacee Jaxx (Peter Deiwick) comes to the Bourbon Room with his band Arsenal to play their farewell gig that will help revive the struggling bar and allow it to stay out of the hands of money grubbing developers intent on revitalizing the Strip. Sherrie immediately falls for Stacee’s long lustrous locks and womanizing ways, but it’s pretty clear she’s going to be fishing her heart out of the ashtray by the end of the night.
The touring cast of ‘Rock of Ages’ is solid. American Idol season 4 finalist and Tony Award nominee Constantine Maroulis left Broadway to join the touring cast of ‘Rock of Ages’ once it broke to Chicago. He is goofy and likeable with a hell of a set of pipes. I can’t see him fronting a real rock band, but this role was tailor made for him. He seems to continue to pave the way for Idol veterans who make the leap to Broadway – Jordin Sparks, Fantasia and Taylor Hicks to name a few. Elicia MacKenzie brings the raw sex appeal to Sherrie as she originally did in the show’s Toronto production. Other standouts include play narrator Lonny, played by Patrick Lewallen, and bar owner Dennis Dupree (Nick Cordero). The tapestry of characters keeps the mood light, and they hit their comedic notes with nice precision. It will be interesting to see how the film version translates with star power like Tom Cruise (Stacee Jaxx), Alec Baldwin (Dennis) and Russell Brand (Lonny) sharing the spotlight.
‘Rock of Ages’ comes complete with scantily clad women peeled straight out of the hair metal videos (not necessarily appropriate for the younger crowd though). The set design brings the 80s rock scene to life through its eye for detail. The real star of the musical though was the music. Seemingly everywhere they can stick a hair band song they find a way to shoehorn it in there. You’d think with that many different trains of thought running together it would turn out to be a jumbled mess, but the mash up of songs make it work in a clever way. There is pretty much something for everyone from Bon Jovi and Warrant to Pat Benatar and Foreigner. Just try to come out of the theatre without multiple tracks stuck in your head. Impossible I say.
In all, this is a fun musical that bottles you up in a time warp. This isn’t high browed stuff that aims to build multi-faceted characters or looks to change your take on reality. The narrator is in on the joke and professes as much to the audience. At the end of the day, different audiences want different things from their theatre entertainment. If you like probing dramas or dark comedies, ‘Rock of Ages’ will most likely fall flat with you. If you want to sing along with the songs, root for the underdog and get lost in an era that was completely ridiculous, ‘Rock of Ages’ is your kind of musical. Prepare to have fun and get in your laugh quota for the afternoon.
Next up on the Rock of Ages tour is National Theatre in Washington D.C. from July 11-24. It is currently playing an open-ended engagement at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway.
Author: Mark Runyon