Have you ever been at the bar, noticed the tattoo of a Fender Strat with “Rock or Die” across it on the bicep of your 40-something year-old bartender, and wondered: did this guy really want to be doing this with his life? There are many a failed rock star out there, and many more who never even came close, but one thing is for sure. Anyone who expected to make it in the rock biz in the 1980s, needed to play a show on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip.
In hopes that the 2010s will follow the 2000s as the grungy 1990s followed the glam-filled 1980s, Rock of Ages sheds light on the gritty side of fame and the false hopes it brings. It shows how even those who make it, aren’t necessarily happy, but everyone who tries, gets to join in on at least a small part of the crazy ride. This five-time Tony nominated jukebox musical celebrates serendipitous fates and, oddly enough, uses the famous to tell the story of those lost in the fray on their journey to stardom.
Rock of Ages capitalizes on the inherent melodrama of hair metal tunes, bringing back the scene of Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, the Mecca of glam metal in the 1980s. Using tunes from Reagan era rock legends like White Snake, Twisted Sister, Styx, Journey, and Pat Benetar to name a few, Rock of Ages, like its many juke-box musical counterparts, constructs a loose plot inspired by the lyrics of choice 80’s artists, then tops it off with sizzling neo-vintage costumes (design by Gregory Gale) and R-rated choreography (Kelly Devine).
The plot of Rock of Ages is a simple, stemming from the most common 80s hair metal topics: love stories and stickin' it to the man, but it does hold the audience’s attention and helps establish where sympathies should lie. I personally enjoyed the transitional fluff most of all, especially since I was equipped with a complimentary Rock of Ages LED “lighter” to wave around.
What was most unexpectedly enjoyable was the raunchy, yet amiable narrator character Lonny (Patrick Lewallen) who guides you through the tongue-in-cheek production with a series of asides that often turn into tangential musical numbers themselves. Lewallen’s energy is palpable as he climbs onto banisters, stripper poles, and bar stools. Though not the strongest vocalist in the production, Lewallen’s charisma is show-stealing.
And if stripper poles, pelvic thrusting, and Jon Bon Jovi aren’t enough to hook you, perhaps rising star Constantine Maroulis will draw you in. Maroulis, who rose to fame in the fourth season of American Idol as one of the top 10 finalists, was nominated for best lead actor in a musical at the 2009 Tony Awards for Rock of Ages. Before that, Maroulis also played Roger in an international tour of RENT for a stint in the early 2000s. His vocal performance in Rock of Ages is certainly laudable, although the character is not much of a stretch for him. Maroulis has pretty much lived the life of his character, Drew, also known as “Wolfgang Von Colt.”
What I wanted to see more of at this production was people getting into the spirit of the 80s. I was extremely disappointed with the audience. I saw no ratted hair, no leggings, no L.A. Gears. My best advice for this one is to break out your spandex and denim jackets and have nothing but a good time.
Rock of Ages is being presented by the Hennepin Theatre Trust and runs now through October 24 at the Orpheum Theater. Tickets are available at the State Theater Box Office or online at www.hennepintheatretrust.org. Tickets range from $24-$76, additional fees may apply. Rock of Ages is a production of Broadway Across America, book by Chris D'Arienzo, Directed by Kristin Hanggi, and Musical Direction and Arrangement by David Gibbs.