Directed by: Kristin Hanggi
Bank of America Theatre
Call me old fashioned, but I like my Broadway musicals with original scores, written for specific characters in a specific story. Not the other way around. The recent influx of hackneyed stories hashed out from popular music catalogs (i.e. Billy Joel, ABBA, The Four Seasons, etc…) leads me to believe that we’ve lost our originality. But there might be hope.
Rock of Ages is a musical that takes place on the Sunset Strip in 1987, the epicenter of the “hair band” movement. And as such, the score is…yep, you guessed it, 80’s hard rock. Whitesnake, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger….they’re all represented. (Well, the ones they could get the rights to at least.) Now, having grown up in the 80’s, I have a special place in my heart for these bands. These songs, in all of their cheesiness, will forever be classics that take me back to the days of when I was younger. Still, sentiment aside, it’s nothing close to the Broadway show tune standards that I’m used to seeing in a theatre setting. Now, let’s add the fact that an American Idol cast off/soap opera star in Constantine Maroulis is your lead. Since I’m not a 14 year old girl or a middle aged woman, I can’t say that Constantine, and the play list he’ll most certainly be gyrating to, has much to offer me in terms of justifying the price of admission. Poison pen in hand I was ready to lambaste this production. But I couldn’t. I can’t. It’s just too good.
The story follows a young girl from the sticks arriving in LA for the first time, (An aspiring actress named Sherrie, played by Rebecca Faulkenberry), crossing paths with a meek bar back and aspiring rock musician, Drew, played by Constantine. We’ve heard this story a million times. Boy meets girl, loses girl, and so on and so forth. But in this context, the show is not formulaic. Simply put, Rock of Ages is a self-deprecating comedy that’s serves two purposes: To constantly make fun of itself, and to give the audience the ol’ “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll” treatment, which by the way, makes the crowd go berserk. (You won’t find a more electric theatre atmosphere.)
The casting in this show could not be anymore spot on. To go into to how funny and how talented everyone is, would take some time. Aside from the great signing and acting performances by Constatine, Faulkenberry, and the rest of the cast, it’s the narrator Lonny, played by Patrick Lewallen that steals the show. Lonny is co-owner of a fictitious rock bar, fashioned after the Whiskey A Go-Go that employs Drew. He’s your typical Sunset Strip burnout, yet he employs a certain wisdom in his narration. Lonny wanted to do legitimate theatre, yet has to settle for “poop jokes, and Whitesnake songs”. It’s his performance that reminds you that this is still a Broadway production. It’s also worth mentioning that the other half of ownership, Dennis, played by Nick Cordero, gives Lonny a run for his money…from a comedic stand point that is. (Try to pick up on the Allen Parson Project jokes…very smart.)
I will say that this isn’t the type of show to bring the kids to. Half naked women and crude humor are in abundance, but it has equal parts of wit as well. Also, if you don’t know the bands, or the songs, you may not get a kick out of it, although I did see some older people in the audience, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
It boils down to this. Rock of Ages does not try to be something it isn’t. The show has its own identity with a vibrant cast that is clearly having fun with the material. No, it’s not your standard Broadway show, but the production knows this and doesn’t try to conform. Isn’t that what rock is all about?
John B. Reinhardt
Date Reviewed: 9/23/10
For full show information, check out the Rock of Ages page at TheatreInChicago.
Bank of America Theatre/ 18 W. Monroe Chicago / $18 to $85 / Running time approximately 150 minutes with intermission/ September 22nd, thru October 3rd