Confession: Way back in the day (mid-to-late ‘70s), I wrote about rock music for a living. But by the time the glam metal bands were doing their flamboyantly theatrical, thunderously loud sets in the ‘80s, I was spending my nights in the relative quiet of legit theaters.
Sure, when Journey sang Don’t Stop Believin’ or Twisted Sister growled We’re Not Gonna Take It on the radio, I’d listen. But I was always more of a Stones/Bruce Springsteen/Billy Joel fan. The metal stuff? Not my thing.
So the Broadway hit Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical built around songs from that genre and era, never managed to make the cut for me on a New York trip. And I was out of town when the tour with headliner Constantine Maroulis played the Broward Center two seasons ago. I did see the misbegotten flop movie version this summer, so I didn’t have especially high hopes for the touring Rock of Ages that’s kicking off the Broadway in Miami series at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this week.
But guess what? The theater version of Rock of Ages is a hoot. The songs, originally hits for Poison, Starship, REO Speedwagon and others, are cleverly integrated into Chris D’Arienzo’s original script. Plenty of ideas in that script are anything but original: smalltown girl hits the big city with dreams of stardom, only to get crushed; the music industry is brutal; women are just one more treat in a rock star’s backstage buffet.
Yet because of the tone of the writing, Rock of Ages works. Nobody, but nobody, is trying to create art with a capital “A.” Rock of Ages is, as the Poison song would have it, Nothin’ But a Good Time. Its characters keep their tongues firmly in their cheeks (not easy to do when you’re wailing Here I Go Again), and the actors just roll with the goofiness.
The crises in Rock of Ages are multiple, though all get resolved by the end of the show – this is, after all, the world of musical comedy.
“Evil” developers (an over-the-top Philip Peterson and Stephen Michael Kane) are trying to rid Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip of its seedy attractions. One of those would be The Bourbon Room, a scuzzy rock venue operated by the consciousness-altered Dennis (Matt Bann) and his hilarious henchman Lonny (Justin Colombo, who keeps things rollicking as the show’s exuberant narrator). Fresh-from-Kansas Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) is hoping to make it in the movies, while the unspoiled rocker wannabe Drew (Dominique Scott, a New World School of the Arts alum) is trying to get his music heard; true love beckons, but not before Sherrie takes a detour into stripping and Drew into a soul-killing boy band. Rock god Stacee Jaxx (Universo Pereira) is splitting from his band Arsenal (Bryan McAdams, Chris Cicchino, Maddox, Alan Childs and Andy Gerold play the band members and supply all the live music), but not before one last gig at the soon-to-be demolished Bourbon Room.
Understand, Rock of Ages doesn’t hit the high bar set by Jersey Boys, the best of the jukebox musicals. It goes on too long, it’s unapologetically raunchy at times, and some of its plot twists are just plain ridiculous.
Still, Tony Award nominee Kristin Hanggi’s direction (recreated by Adam John Hunter), Kelly Devine’s choreography (recreated by Marcos Santana), Beowulf Borritt’s set, Zak Borovay’s terrific projection designs, Gregory Gale’s costumes, Jason Lyons’ lighting, Craig Cassidy’s sound design and Tom Watson’s big hair/wig designs efficiently and artfully take the audience back to the ‘80s. At the Arsht, that’s a fun place to be.