Review: Rock of Ages. Music/Lyrics by Various. Book by Chris D’Arienzo. Directed by Kristin Hanggi. Choreographed by Kelly Devine. With Constantine Maroulis, Rebecca Faulkenbery, Nick Cordero, Patrick Lewallen, Teresa Stanley and MiG Ayesa. Now through February 13 at The Paramount.
A friend at intermission gave me his one word review of the Broadway jukebox musical, Rock of Ages, featuring a score of hit glam rock songs from the 1980’s which opened at the Paramount Tuesday night. You might notice his review did NOT include an exclamation point. He stayed for the second half of the musical, but a couple of members from the rest of his party bailed.
I didn’t bail either, though I wasn’t in love in with the first half of Rock of Ages…it featured a dozen popular songs, a lightweight plot about two star crossed lovers in a Sunset Strip rock club that faces demolition, an engaging cast of actors led by Constantine Maroulis as one of those lovers, cute sets/costumes and a very talented on stage rock band. The show was entertaining, and had a lot of energy and it was “fun” but it’s a kind of forced fun, like you have on an amusement park ride that you especially like. Sure, Space Mountain is an amazing thrill the first time you ride it, but it’s a mechanical thrill. Once you’ve ridden it, you pretty much know where and when to expect the twists and turns and loop de loops. It’s all pre-set and that’s the main problem with Rock of Ages. It never feels very organic. All the pretty lights, and noises, and very familiar songs seem to be all rigged to a series of cogs and wheels…like taking a trip through “It’s a Small World” or “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland. If it weren’t for the language and “sex/drugs/rock n roll” atmosphere of Rock of Ages, it could pass for a ride at your favorite Disney Resort. And even with the various four letter words and jokes about VD, fellatio, cocaine and poop, Rock of Ages still seems pretty sanitized; no one really seems to be very debauched no matter how “dirty” they talk. Basically, it’s a PG-13 version of Glee but without the annoyance of Lea Michelle.
The audience also seemed a bit subdued with Act One and the cast on stage was trying their hardest to wake everyone up but to little avail. But that changed dramatically with Act Two. I don’t know if much of the audience had a couple fast drinks at the bar, but they were far livelier for the second act. Part of the change in tone, can also be attributed to the looser nature of Act Two; it wasn’t as frenetic as the first act and we had moments on stage with just a couple of the characters instead of the large crowd scenes that dominated the first half. The show slowed down to give characters a moment to breath and make them seem a bit more human instead of pre-programmed glam rock singing automatons. There are also more moments where characters break the fourth wall and speak to the audience, (and, a couple times there were audience members who spoke back…we’ll blame the strong drinks at the Paramount bar…) It’s a bit of a corny gimmick, but the entire show is so tongue in cheek that the device actually works in the context of this show, a wink to the audience, that the actors all know that this is silly fun.
As for me and my reactions to Act 2, I far preferred the second act to the first, and it helped redeem the show for me. Constantine Maroulis was a very appealing leading man and the former American Idol runner up has talent as a powerhouse Broadway belter and as an actor. It’s a surprisingly sweet and understated performance. He was also nicely matched with Rebecca Faulkenberry, a charming young musical actress, as his object of love and desire, Sherrie, (and, if you think at some point Mr Maroulis has a moment in the show to belt out the Steve Perry hit, “Oh, Sherrie” then you should pat yourself on the back…) The rest of the cast was fine, with audience favorites being Patrick Lewallen as the narrator, Lonnie, the smartass sound board guy at the rock club; Nick Cordero as the ex-rocker/owner of the club, and MiG Ayesa as the sleazy rock star Stacee Jaxx, a perfect composite of Nikki Sixx, David Lee Roth, Dee Snyder and every long haired, kohl eyed lead singer of the era. Mr Ayesa is a fine comedic performer and a power belter and he has an amazing set of abs…which are constantly on display in this show. Eye candy is in the price of admission apparently.
Speaking of candy, another friend of mine described Rock of Ages as a “theatrical candy rock concert”. It’s light hearted, Middle Of the Road fun for audiences that like MOR entertainment, (meaning about 75% of the population). If you like the music of the era and simple, colorful entertainment with little intellectual depth, then you’ll probably very much enjoy this show. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. If very light, frothy, jukebox musicals aren’t your scene and you demand a bit more heft and originality then save your money for Next To Normal a musical about a bi-polar woman which is coming to town later this month. It won the Pulitzer Prize but you won’t leave the theater humming “Don’t Stop Believin'” to yourself, or “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”, or “Heat of the Moment”, or “Final Countdown”, or “Cum On Feel the Noize”, or…..