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'Rock of Ages': Righteously bodacious

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Broadway In Tucson

'Rock of Ages': Righteously bodacious

Was the LA rock scene really this much fun, this well choreographed in the '80s?

  • The cast rocks out in 'Rock of Ages.'
    Rock of AgesThe cast rocks out in 'Rock of Ages.'
  • The cast of 'Rock of Ages.'
    Rock of AgesThe cast of 'Rock of Ages.'
  • Justin Colombo as narrator Lonnie in 'Rock of Ages.'
    Rock of AgesJustin Colombo as narrator Lonnie in 'Rock of Ages.'

Rock of Ages” is a bodacious celebration of the youthful sounds and values of rock-centric Gen Xers. The musical features songs by Journey, Styx, Starship, Poison, Foreigner and other '80s bands, stitched together by themes of love lost, following one’s dreams and youthful rebellion.

The show’s 30-plus songs, include numbers like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going To Take It,” Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You” and “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Keep On Loving You,” Journey’s “Oh Sherrie” and “Don’t Stop Believin'.”

“Rock of Ages” is still too new to be called a classic, premiering in 2005 and finally rolling onto Broadway in 2009, where it copped five Tony nominations. A movie version, starring Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin, is slated for release later this year. Though the songs range from 1979 through 1991, the show itself resides in a very specific location and era: Los Angeles, circa 1985-89. This was a time when skinny rock bands with tasty riffs, big hair and bad behavior ruled.

And why not? It was the peak of mass-market music sales and a hit could potentially generate millions of dollars in revenue. That significant economic impact led many a young man to rigorously study Eddie Van Halen’s guitar techniques, grow stylized hair past his shoulders, and wear the tightest possible jeans on the planet. Or at least to dream about doing those things.

In between forays of creating brilliant pop hits, rockers were expected, practically required, to engage in sexual excess and/or ingest large quantities of alcohol and/or drugs, as part of the hedonistic rock lifestyle, first articulated by the Rolling Stones in the '70s. Or, again, to at least dream.

Enter Drew, a young man from South Detroit who has come to LA to attain rock godhood. Drew arrives at the Bourbon Bar, run by aging hippie Dennis on the Sunset Strip, at the same time as Sherrie. Sherrie, of course, is "just a small town girl/living in a lonely world,” as outlined in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'.” She may have taken a "midnight train going anywhere," but she’s ended up in LA.

From there it’s boy meets girl — boy loses girl — boy gets girl. The main subplot involves a corrupt German land developer who wants to tear down the iconic clubs, like the Bourbon Bar (and by implication, the Roxy and Whiskey A Go Go) to build more franchise retail space. This leads to protests and rebellion – cue Starships’ “We Built This City.” Rock god Stacee Jaxx returns to his roots to play the bar’s final concert. Several minor subplots elucidate the ‘follow your dreams’ theme. Helping knit things together is narrator Lonny, directly addressing the audience.

Dominique Scott rocks as Drew. His vocal range reaches into the stratosphere, but his physical slightness and lack of superstar bombast make him an underdog we want to root for. Shannon Mullen as Sherrie provides some delicious eye candy — after her liaison with Stacee Jaxx, she becomes a stripper. Her singing chops are more than adequate, though several times, her vocals lacked the harshness of this genre and took on more of a country suppleness. Mullen and Scott’s passionate hold-nothing-back duets were the strongest musical moments of the show.

Matt Ban brought a Zappa-esque greasiness to the father-figure role of club owner Dennis. Amma Osei was the strongest singer of a show of singers. She plays strip club owner Justice.  Justin Colombo is perfect as Lonnie, a rocker of questionable taste, more than a few pounds past his prime. Colombo seemed to approach the role as if he were Jack Black deliciously channeling Freddie Prinze (Sr.) and Freddy Mercury simultaneously.

Also notable were Katie Postotnik as both protest leader Regina (an ongoing joke, her name pronounced to rhyme with vagina) and stripper Candi; and Stephan Michael Kane in a study of movement and charisma as the developer’s son, Franz.  

Jukebox musicals understand the lightness of their genre. “Rock of Ages” takes this a step further, openly mocking itself to great comic effect. The show is rich with little jokes that illustrate it is not taking itself seriously at all. Lonnie drops out of character and laments about his desire to be a serious actor, rather than be stuck in a show making poop jokes. The band — on stage throughout, rather than in the orchestra pit — makes snide comments and rude gestures in response to the play going on around them.

“Rock of Ages” will appeal mostly to Gen-Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, who reached puberty when these songs were most popular.  There is plenty going on within the work visually and sonically. Plus there are some unexpected character arcs. However, without some familiarity and affection for both the repertoire and the period, “Rock of Ages” might feel busy and bombastic.

Small cautions are warranted for language, drug references and sexual themes. Matt Nolan as Bret Michael’s clone Stacee Jaxx, gets to strip down to the tiniest of bikini underwear (Nice abs, dude), while the stripper costumes get skimpier as the show goes on. There are lots of pelvic thrusts and spread eagle booty displays in the choreography. The dancing, however, while energetic, entertaining and well-executed, is secondary in importance to the music, which is very effectively recreated. The show is not overly loud, though obviously louder than the typical show in the TCC Music Hall. It’s likely the most bass the building has ever had to withstand; the show probably sets off seismographs at the University of Arizona.

“Rock of Ages” may not be everybody’s snootful of toot, but the show is well written, well staged, professionally performed and surprisingly funny. If you’re not singing along during the show’s limited run, you’re probably over 60 or under 25.


If you go

  • What:Rock of Ages” presented by Broadway in Tucson
  • When: Through March 18 only. Evening shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday; matinee shows at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
  • Where: The TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
  • Tickets: Reserved seats are $29 - $66, plus fees. Available from the TCC box office, at (800) 745-3000 or through TicketMaster.

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