Rock of Ages – A Show That Can’t be Ignored

The touring version of “Rock of Ages” now at the National Theater for a short stay is probably critic-proof, bullet-proof, and any other kind of proof. You could probably find a hundred things wrong with it and none of it would matter because it’s sort of like one of those insistent puppies that jumps in your lap with muddy paws, slobbers over your fresh white shirt, and slurps your face until it shines.

If you’re immune to the charms of big hair, eighties music and the like you could of course try to ignore it and sort of nod off. Oh wait, you can’t do that either because the music, singers and guitars in this show are really loud and who knows, some jacked-up frizzy-haired guy might be running down the aisle trying to high-five you.

You might as well give it up. “Rock of Ages” is infectious and emblematic of its time, the time of the eighties, the time of stadium rock, of amped up anthems, of big-voiced, leather-booted girl singers AND guitar players, the time of Bon Jovi, Journey, Poison, and Kiss and lead singers who stuck their tongues out and wiggled them, something you don’t see the Bieber doing.

“Rock if Ages” us a big hit Broadway musical which celebrates eighties rock and roll the only way you can—by being as raunchy as possible, and as loud as possible, by screaming and pelvis pumping and guitar riffing and holding on to the scream notes for dear live.

And underneath, there’s actually a story, and it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and groupies, boy meets girl, boy meets girl in a rock blub, boy loses girl to a rock star in the men’s room (don’t ask), boy loses his way for a time, boy finally meets girl again at a strip joint. Well, it’s not the most wholesome of romances, but basically they’re sweet kids and, like the song goes, “she’s just a small town girl and ….it goes on and on and on” and “don’t stop believing,” you betchya.

There is sub-plot too, involving a German developer who wants to destroy the strip and the city that was built on rock and roll, and he has a dubious blond son named Franz who wants with all his heart to become a confectioner before the age of cupcakes. If only. Franz, who’s blonde, sweet and a little light on his feet, is aghast when the girl thinks he’s gay. “I’m not gay,” he explains, “I’m German.”

The plot convolutions shouldn’t concern audience members too much because they go completely off track in the second act. What never stops is the music, the energy, the push-push and pounding of the guitar and the house band, full of riffs that could give “Edge” a run for his pick.

The tempo and high energy of the show and the campy atmospherics of 1980s rock club and strip bar seem authentic and reek of nostalgia and draft beer, not to mention the general wretched excess which characterized the decade.

It’s an audience show—it’s as much fun to watch the audience members as it is to keep track of the performers on stage and what they’re up to. Just for fun, you’re equipped with tiny little plastic flashlights which you can wave so that it seems like 1985 all over again. If you should happen to experience a flashback to the time, be afraid, be very afraid.

All being said, here’s a few surprises: Constantine Maroulis, the nominal star of this production and an American Idol grad is a gangly, high-hair, appealing performer, with a voice pitched perfectly to the rockers and anthems he sings. Leather seems to be a major accessory for everyone, including blonde Elicia MacKenzie, who can knock a song like “I’m Gonna Harden my Heart” at least out of the theater and probably a ballpark. She seems equally at home as a heartland naïve would-be actress as a tough-chick Pasadena employee of the Venus Club.

Still, some things are bewildering, most notably what they’ve done with Pat Benator’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” which for reasons not to be pursued, features Franz and his father. But then there’s Peter Deiwick as Stacee Jazxx, an aging out-in-front-of-the-band star a la, I don’t know, whoever fronted Poison or Def Leopard. Apparently Tom Cruise is doing the role in the movie version. For real. Risky business, that.

If the eighties were or are your greatest decade ever, then “Rock of Ages” is, well, “Nothing but a Good Time.”

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