BWW Reviews: Volcanic Heat at a Face-Melting ROCK OF AGES in Salt Lake City
Only a dunderhead neophyte reviewer, with little to no perspective, would mistake ROCK OF AGES for a nontraditional musical.
The story is traditional: Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Happy Couple skip into a suburbia sunset sipping Slurpees. ROCK OF AGES is a jukebox musical. But "Buddy-the Buddy Holly Story," reputed to be the first show to use a catalog of songs masquerading as showtunes, opened 23 years ago. And we have to go all the way back to 1968 to find Broadway's first rock musical. Anybody remember "Hair"?
Perhaps ROCK OF AGES is distinguished for being the only show with the title song not in the show. The Def Leppard single was yanked from early versions after Universal Music Group refused to license the Billboard chart-topper.
Salt Lake City felt the "noize" of a kick-ass ROCK OF AGES. Proving that Utah audiences are not as staid as might be believed, the opening-night full house at Kingsbury Hall had the good time of a jet-fueled arena concert headlined by a rock god. This tour gives national audiences a chance to see the still-on-Broadway, Tony-nominated musical before Adam Shankman's big-screen adaptation.
With a plot so thin of Scotch-taped showbiz clichés, ROCK OF AGES has gotta have a dynamite performers. And this Broadway Across America cast proves more Broadway-ready than nonEquity tour.
Shannon Mullen is full of wide-eyed innocence as the fresh-off-the-bus-from-Kansas Sherrie. But she's equally convincing when she quickly strips that persona at a risqué nightclub. Mullen is a terrific actress and singer. She appears to be channeling Laura Bell Bundy, who created the role at the show's King King Club Hollywood premiere, and plays Sherrie with aplomp. As Drew, Dominique Scott is also superb. Scott must simultaneously play an aspiring rocker and a nice guy, and his youthful innocence shines.
As the llama-loving Stacee Jaxx, Matt Nolan-one of the final seven Danny Zukos in NBS's "Grease" reality show-is magnetic. There's no holding back in his Axl Rose-ish superstar, with his solo of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" one of the show's high marks. (Let's stop here and note that Utah's own Will Swenson created the role of Stacee Jaxx off-Broadway-and won a Golden Mullet Award from the 2009 Broadway ROCK OF AGES cast.)
The cruise ship meets Las Vegas choreography is on target for the sleazy Venus Club but doesn't remotely resemble the era's signature moves of Sunset Strip clubs. There's zippy authority in the direction. Would that the same attention had been paid to sound design. While this production trucked in its own speaker towers, the sound design was focused more on headbanging volume than clarity.
The grand finale of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" has the audience on its feet, clapping and chanting with the hard-driving cast.
ROCK OF AGES asks Salt Lake if it is ready to rock, and we respond, "Hell, yea!"
For more information on Broadway Across America productions in Salt Lake City, visit saltlakecity.broadway.com/
ROCK OF AGES is a Phoenix Entertainment production. Book by Chris D'Arienzo; direction by Kristin Hanggi re-created by Adam John Hunter; choreography by Kelly Devine re-created by Marcos Santana; music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp
(ROCK OF AGES photography by Scott Suchman)