Celebrating its one-year anniversary at the Venetian, Rock of Ages stepped into the minefield that is Broadway-to-Vegas transfers and, to paraphrase Pat Benatar, hit us with their best shot, which landed fast and hard on the party bone.
Marrying a goofy rocker-wannabe-meets-actress-wannabe-on-the-Sunset-Strip story to a jukebox score of ’80s hits from the likes of Poison, Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister and Benatar, Rock lacked the prestige of other transplants, including Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Phantom and even Mamma Mia. Certainly, amid the snout-in-the-air Broadway elite, Rock has always been the court jester with its pants on fire. Yet, with its broad, just-for-shits-and-giggles ’tude, Rock fit the Vegas vibe like Manolo Blahnik stilettos fit Frank Marino’s tootsies.
Demographically, it hits the sweet spot as a nostalgic come-on, largely appealing to those for whom the ’80s was a formative decade and are now in their 30s and 40s. Fortunately, while the pop-cultural cheesiness of the era could rival the output of a Wisconsin dairy farm, Rock’s mockery is leavened by obvious affection and sentimentality.
Moreover, Rock of Ages is a generational breakthrough here. While the 1960s bombed twice (Hairspray at the Luxor and the Beach Boys-themed Surf the Musical at Planet Hollywood), Jersey Boys (first at the Palazzo, now at Paris Las Vegas) warmed boomer hearts via its Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons story. Attempting to capitalize on the ’70s, the Queen-based We Will Rock You at the Paris fizzled, but ABBA-fueled Mamma Mia enjoyed a triumphant run at Mandalay Bay.
Finally, Rock of Ages gave kids raised by Ronald Reagan, Gordon Gekko and J.R. Ewing a blowout Strip musical of their very own.
Synergistically, the fictional Bourbon Room setting of the musical is a nifty gimmick to drive wired, post-show fans to the Venetian’s very real Bourbon Room. Providing more promotional punch—plus a charitable spirit—is cast member Mark Shunock (hyperkinetic narrator “Lonny”), who last month launched Mondays Dark, a monthly variety talk show/fundraiser at Body English at the Hard Rock, raising the show’s profile even further.
One year in, it seems that those who banked on the Vegas viability of Rock of Ages constitute a flock of sages.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Invited by the good folks at The Wynn’s Le Rêve to interview some of the cast and creative directors for an upcoming story on the production’s 4,000th show, I found myself feeling like a landlubber in Atlantis.
Rather than the usual dressing room or hotel bar, I was instead ushered onto the show’s hydraulically powered underwater stage, conveniently above the water line at the time, and encircled by water, my interviewees seated across from me.
Quickly I made a mental note not to ask anything offensive that might cause an unconventional ejection. “Note to self: At future interviews, wear a Speedo.”
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.