Rock of Ages – the arena-rock jukebox musical that mixes songs by the likes of Bon Jovi, Foreigner, and Journey with a story about “dreaming big, playing loud and partying on” – just opened on Broadway. Even though I had heard good things, I was skeptical that it was going to be a total cheesefest peppered with jokes about Aqua Net and Bartles & James.
Turns out that’s exactly what it is. Which is to say, awesome!
Here are seven reasons why it’s a must see:
7. The follow your dreams/true love conquers all plotline is as thin as a Whitesnake groupie’s g-string — and it works. Set in the ’80s in L.A. (“If a fella had a dream and a decent amount of hair, there was nowhere else to be”), it follows Drew (American Idol’s Constantine Maroulis), a wannabe rocker working at a club on the Sunset Strip that’s set to be demolished to make way for a Footlocker. His love interest Sherrie, a small town girl (living in a lonely world, if you know what I mean) and struggling actress, breaks his heart when she has a one-night stand with Stacee Jaxx, the sex god lead singer of Arsenal, a.k.a, the most awesomest band ever. What ever will happen? Will Drew and Sherrie finally get together? Will they save the club? Will they actually sing Def Leopard’s “Rock of Ages”? You’ll have to buy a ticket to find out.
Click to Enlarge!6. You get to drink cans of Coors Light while sitting in a red velvet chair in an 85-year-old Broadway theater. Forget those tiny plastic cups of warm Chardonnay you have to down in the lobby of those other snooty Broadway shows. At the Brooks Atkinson Theater, vendors walk down the aisles hawking cold six packs like they’re at a Mets game.
5. It’s the best use of an American Idol alum ever. For a guy who came in sixth on the fourth season of the reality show, Constantine Maroulis sure landed a plum gig. And he’s good. His soulful voice is perfectly suited to Mr. Big’s “Be With You” and Warrant’s “Heaven,” and he’s charming in such an adorably dopey kind of way that you can’t help but root for him. You just know David Cook is angling to be his understudy.
4. It offers a virtuosic version of the hair metal superstar. Hollywood’s attempts to do ha-ha hair metal have always fallen short — either you have Marky Mark’s Rockstar (which took itself way too seriously) or Rainn Wison’s The Rocker (which didn’t take anything seriously). But James Carpinello’s portrayal of Stacee Jaxx, the strapping, bleach-blond Arsenal frontman (“Ladies love him, guys want to be him and his band hates him”), is perfect mix of homage and parody. Stacee’s eyes are too blue, his pants are too tight, and his ego is too big. He’s like the Terminator of ’80s frontmen: a mix of Bret Michaels, Axl Rose, David Lee Roth — but a better singer than all of them. If he had existed in the ’80s, hair metal would still be at the top of the charts.
3. It reimagines “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” as a gay anthem. In the second act, two of the most macho characters in the cast (one of whom is wearing a shirt that says “I Love Boobies”) lock eyes and break into REO Speedwagon’s lovey-dovey piano ballad. The coupling may be the show’s biggest shock, but the lyrics speak for themselves: “I can’t fight this feeling any longer/And yet I’m still afraid to let it flow/What started out as friendship, has grown stronger/I only wish I had the strength to let it show.” Add playfully melodramatic dance moves from the dream ballet in Oklahoma and you have pure Broadway gold.
Click to Enlarge!2. It stars a guy who’s better at being Jack Black than Jack Black is. Mitchell Jarvis, who plays Lonny — the club’s sound guy and the show’s narrator (the Puck of this mid-80s night’s dream) — is such a frighteningly good Jack Black impersonator that I wonder if the show was actually supposed to star Black and Jarvis just filled in at the last moment. Jarvis’ over-the-top facial expressions (the dramatic single eyebrow-raise, the goofy lip-pucker) and amusing, but oddly graceful, dance moves (the woodland sprite leap, the mischievous pole spin) are straight out of the Tenacious D handbook. Of course, people who aren’t familiar with the D will just think Jarvis is a comic genius. And that’s just fine with me — he’s fantastic.
1. If you start singing along, your seatmate will smile at you instead of shush you. During the tearjerking ensemble performance of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (Bret, you used to be so deep!), I couldn’t help but join in on the chorus. The lady next to me — a tanned brunette from Dallas who admitted she had tickets to the next six performances — flashed me an approving grin and raised her battery-powered cigarette lighter. Misty-eyed, we swayed together in our seats and sang. What can I say? It was the heat of the moment.
LISTEN: Rock of Ages Trailer