They hit us with their best shot. They fired away. … Direct hit.
Swapping a Broadway musical that took itself oh so seriously—i.e., Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular—for one that couldn’t take itself less seriously if it wore a clown nose, floppy shoes and a beanie, the Venetian has welcomed Rock of Ages, a rockin’, self-mockin’ blast.
We’d never predict success for any Broadway-to-Vegas transfer (can you spell Hairspray and Avenue Q?), but we’ll note that this one arrives with a ready-made Vegas vibe: winking at its own campiness while wholeheartedly embracing it.
Yes, it’s from classy Broadway, but its spiritual home is the sassy Strip.
Marrying a kitschy boy-meets-then-loses-then-wins-girl story with a mixed score of ’80s metal hits, Rock is an intriguing juxtaposition to other jukebox musicals. Using the oeuvres of a single group whose songs endure with devoted fans, Jersey Boys (the Four Seasons) and Mamma Mia! (ABBA) crafted storylines that, though not Sondheim-like, had some emotional resonance, honoring the music for audiences.
Conversely, short-lived Surf The Musical—directed by Ages helmer Kristin Hanggi—foolishly took beloved Beach Boys tunes and disrespected them with a vapid boy-meets-girl story unworthy of them. Yet that same plot excuse in a show that breaks the fourth wall to elbow the audience in the ribs is a perfect engine for Ages, where the music doesn’t reflect one group or artist, but needles an era we affectionately recall as, well, cheesy.
Rock of Ages is a big, loud, glam-metal jamboree in which two wide-eyed young fame-seekers—Drew (Justin Mortelliti), a wannabe rocker, and Sherrie (Carrie St. Louis), a wannabe actress—meet when he interrupts her mugging outside the rock-out Bourbon Room on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. Wild and goofy characters interact with the cute-some twosome. Expect misunderstandings, sex jokes and sitcom situations (Sherrie becomes a stripper, Drew is turned into a boy-band popster, the club is threatened by greedy developers). Everyone breaks into hits by Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison and others—the audience swaying with LED lighters handed out at the door—before the hard-rockin’ happy ending.
Balls-to-the-wall parody is played with gusto, led by St. Louis and Mortelliti as the innocents in Gomorrah. Among the heartily amusing supporting cast are Kyle Lowder as whacked-out rocker Stacee Jaxx, Troy Burgess as Dennis, the club’s middle-aged metal-head owner—and especially, hilarious Mark Shunock as Dennis’ right-hand man, Lonny, the show’s fourth-wall-breaking narrator and endless wellspring of smart-ass quips and sight gags.
Rock of Ages entertainingly recalls the era of Ronald Reagan, Gordon Gekko and rock stars who would quake at the sight of a barber’s chair.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: After scribbling a negative review of the modest LegWarmers: An 80s Musical last fall, this reviewer was invited back to find it tighter, cleaner and sharper than the undisciplined mess it was previously. Congrats to director Sirc Michaels for giving an ’80s vamp a good revamp. Now it’s Rock of Ages Jr. Or, if you prefer, Pebble of Ages.