They built this city on rock and roll. Constantine Maroulis headlines the touring cast of Rock of Ages, an ’80s power-rock jukebox musical. Below: Maroulis seen in the Broadway production with Kerry Butler. Photos by Joan Marcus
If power chords be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of head banging.
Even if Rock of Ages has about as much to do with Shakespeare as hairspray does to musical taste, this hard-rocking jukebox musical is a whole lot more awesome than Hamlet. Okay, maybe not, but I’m certain there are people who think so. Hamlet might have been a whole lot less moody if he had been able to jam to “Sister Christian” or “Cum on Feel the Noize.”
You don’t go to Rock of Ages for high art. You go to move your head vigorously to an irrisistible beat – as if you had a full head of ’80s rocker hair – and you may even feel compelled to perform some air drums and, God help you, air guitar. The Broadway touring company now on stage at the Curran Theatre as part of the Best of Broadway series makes Mama Mia! look like Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
From its very first moments, Rock of Ages blows through any sort of rock-star pretention by promising an evening of “decadence and debaucher” in the same “turn off your phones” speech that works in the words “douche” and “dick.” Then, within moments of actually starting – with David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise” and Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” our narrator, Lonny (Patrick Lewallen, who looks a little like Rosie O’Donnell if she were a rocker) breaks down that fourth wall and essentially tells us to revel in the silliness.
This is musical theater deconstructed and deflated, self-referential and ironic – in other words, perfect for post-modern dudes who don’t know their Billys from their Elliots, their Kanders from their Ebbs.
All you need to know to enjoy Rock of Ages is that the ’80s happened, and they were kinda dumb and full of music that made you want to pump your fist in the air while doing the famous white man’s overbite.
Yes, there’s a plot, courtesy of Chris D’Arienzo, but it makes fun of itself the entire 2 1/2 hours of the show, so it doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say it’s the mid- to late-’80s on LA’s Sunset Strip. Hair metal is all the rage, and a German developer wants to destroy a classic rocker bar so he can build a Foot Locker. There’s a nice guy wanna-be rocker named Drew, and he’s played with nice-guy charm by American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis, who originated the role on Broadway (and got a Tony nomination to boot – not to knock him because he’s charming, but WHAT THE?).
The nice guy falls for the new girl in town, fresh off the bus and certain to spiral into being a whore (sorry, Charity, dance hall girl) before the show is out. Sure enough, Sherrie (Elicia MacKenzie) fits that bill right down to her sexy, trampy Heart video costumes by hard-working Gregory Gale.
The show, which works in songs by the likes of Slade, Europe, Asia, Pat Benatar, Styx, Foreigner, Survivor and Night Ranger, to give a partial list, is actually stolen by Lewallen and Nick Cordero who plays Dennis, the owner of the bar. They have one of the show’s two best musical moments. Their duet on REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” gave me a whole new respect for that song, and the final song of the night – the inevitable Journey anthem “Don’t Stop Believin'” is so irresistible you just about forgive how truly fluffy and puffy this show really is.
But as any of us who lived through the ’80s knows, mindless entertainment can be amusing. Amazingly, these crazy kids somehow avoid triggering the gag reflex on Starship’s “We Built This City” and make you think that Quarterflash might be worth a second listen. And if you keep a close eye on the video screen at the back of Beowulf Boritt’s gnarly set, you’ll see some funny, funny stuff flash by. Watch for downward-spiraling rocker Stacee Jaxx (a hair-flippin’ funny performance by Peter Deiwick) make his first appearance onscreen while he’s having some fun with some ladies and some ping-pong balls.
The debauchery and decadence promised at the start doesn’t really materialize. This is rock ‘n’ roll as theme park entertainment – sanitized for your protection and for mass-marketing purposes, but it does do for the ’80s what Happy Days did for the ’50s – makes them seem like a whole lot more fun than they actually were. There’s nothing quite like in-your-face nostalgia played with an acid-wash wink and a knowing, blow-dried smile. Oh, Rock of Ages, to paraphrase Ms. Joan Jett, I hate myself for loving you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Rock of Ages continues through April 9 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets start at $30. Call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com for information.