BWW Reviews: ROCK OF AGES at the Paramount
Big hair and dreams have come to the Paramount. No, it's not "Hairspray" or even "Hair" (since we just had that one). No, fast forward about 20 years from that one and you have the 80's rock musical "Rock of Ages". And while no one could accuse the show of being deep or important, it's certainly loud, goofy and fun!
Packed with tons of rock, hair band hits of the 80's like "Sister Christian", "We Built This City" and "Here I Go Again" the story is a very familiar one. Sherrie (Rebecca Faulkenberry) is a small town girl, who has come to LA to become an actress. Drew (Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame and the original cast of "Rock of Ages") is a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit (Michigan), who works at the legendary Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip as a busboy but who has dreams of becoming a big rock star. Sound like the beginning of a certain Journey song? Yup, they go there. And of course these two kids fall in love (as much as two kids can fall in love in act one of an 80's musical). But when German developer Hertz (Bret Tuomi) and his son Franz (Travis Walker) try to buy up the club from owner Dennis (Nick Cordero) along with the rest of the strip to tear it down, Dennis' only hope is to bring back Stacee Jaxx (MiG Ayesa) who got his start at the club with his band Arsenal to come back and play their final gig there. But hearts are broken and dreams crushed when Sherrie goes off with Stacee and Drew chooses fame over the girl. But not to worry, that's only Act One and our narrator Lonny (Patrick Lewallen) and the club's Emcee has a copy of Theater for Dummies and knows exactly what they need to do to turn things around.
Yeah, it's a pretty standard story, so no big revelation there. The music is all covers from the 80's and are mostly used as a punch line rather than to drive the story (as was done so well in "Mamma Mia") so nothing to write home about there. And some of the writing is clever, more so in Act Two. So what's the big deal with this show? Why is it so popular and still running on Broadway? I would have to attribute that to the characters and the actors playing them. Here you have a truly zany group of lovable characters (all of them have something redeemable about them) played by super talented performers who take these over the top characters to the nth degree.
Lewallen kills as the ever present and ever in your face Lonny complete with a sly little smirk, glorious voice and hips that won't quit. Ayesa is deliciously nasty as the hard bodied head banger, Stacee Jaxx, with ego and attitude for days. Walker is hilarious as the reluctant developer Franz who's not gay, he's just German. And he is oh soooooo German! And Casey Tuma as the activist Regina (that's pronounced "ruh-jahy-nuh") not only nails her proto-feminist savior but also has a voice and moves to rival Olivia Newton-John. But the stand outs had to be Maroulis and Faulkenberry as the star crossed rockers with an over abundance of heart. Faulkenberry is stunningly gorgeous with a voice to match. Add into that wonderful comedic timing and amazing moves and she is a true quadruple threat. And Maroulis. Well, I have to admit I didn't know much about him as I'm not an American Idol fan. So I was dubious about him in the show. But not only does he have an insanely powerful and pitch perfect voice but he managed to go from adorable and shy to rock star confidence at the drop of a hat (or maybe drop of a bandanna). A wonderfully focused and endearing performance and one that made me up my estimation of the man. And special kudos to the band, "Arsenal", who truly knows how to "melt your face off".
So, with a rockin' collection of songs, lovable characters, and enough self-referential comedy to keep it clipping along and "Rock of Ages" is an old fashioned good time. You can go for the nostalgia (it was my era but not my music but I don't think a Richard Marx musical would work), you can go for the music (get those lighters out now) or you can go for the fun of it all (as Lonny says, it's not profound, it's poop jokes and Whitesnake songs), but if you can handle a little (or a lot) of hair band music from the 80's then you're bound to have a blast.