**spoiler alert** I’ll discuss some of the plot of the show as compared to the movie, so spoilers for both.
I’m a huge Broadway/Musical nerd, but I’m also a bit of a snob. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the rise of the “jukebox musical”–a musical built around the music of a specific group (“Jersey Boys”–Frankie Valley and the The Four Seasons, “Mamma Mia”–Abba, “American Idiot”–Greenday, etc). Sometimes the plot is specifically about the artist or the music–“Motown:The Musical” was written by Berry Gordy about his experience creating and building the Motown record label. Other times the plot is an excuse to hold together the music that the creators wanted to highlight, such as “Rock of Ages.” I don’t particularly like jukebox musicals, and as a rule I mostly avoid them.
However, I have a weak spot for 80’s rock. I grew up singing along to Whitesnake, Poison, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, and so forth, so Rock of Ages is live version of an awesome mix tape. I managed to resist the every-so-tempting lure of “Rock of Ages,” even when Bret Michaels from Poison was performing. I lost the battle when the movie was announced with Tom Cruise as Stacie Jaxx. That was just brilliant casting. And I will confess that while the opening notes of Phantom of the Opera’s Overture make me tingle, I would also love to go to a rock show at the Bourbon Room.
When I saw that Rock of Ages was playing at RWS, I decided that the time had come to pony up some Broadway cash for a jukebox musical.
I entered the show with only the movie for reference. Unsurprisingly, the stage and screen versions are two different shows. What works on stage–such as having Lonny Barnett narrating the show and constantly breaking the fourth wall–wouldn’t have translated to film.
I felt very quickly disoriented as the villain of the stage show is a German land developer named Hertz Klinemann and his son Fritz, rather than the Mayor’s bible thumping wife Patricia Whitemore. There is a grassroots organizer named Regina (“rhymes with vagina”) fighting to keep Klinemann from ripping down the strip and putting up a Foot Locker among other things.
There are some musical changes as well. For example while Def Leppard opened their catalog to the movie, allowing us to see Tom Cruise sing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (if you’ve never seen it, here’s a link), they have not given the same permission to the stage show.
I don’t want to give too much away, because if you’re discovering Rock of Ages for the first time, or if you’re fellow movie fan, I want you to enjoy the show without me spoiling all of it. If you want a more in-depth analysis/spoilers of the changes, read this.
Your experience of Rock of Ages is all about the attitude you enter the theater with. Personally, I pulled out my jean skirt and paired it with a black top and knee high black boots and used a heavy hand with my eyeliner. I entered the theater ready to rock out and laugh. So I had a blast. Do you love 80’s rock? Laugh at raunchy jokes? Not mind the music turned up to 11? You’ll love it.
The stand out performer by far is Justin Colombo, who plays Lonny Barnett. Colombo’s comedic timing is a thing of beauty. He doesn’t just connect with the audience–he flirts with it. Within five minutes we were eating out of the palm of his hand. It’s so clear he’s loving this role, and if last night was any indication, he’s nailing it.
Vocally, Dominique Scott as Drew and Kadejah Onè as Justice knock it out of the park.
The book is absolutely the weakest part of “Rock of Ages.” The music is killer–which is why they built the show around it. But, as I’ve already said, the issue with jukebox musicals is that the plot is flimsy. In the case of Rock of Ages the dialogue is painful at times. There’s nothing about the stage version of Sherrie that makes me care about or root about her, and her lines are some of the worst in the show. Shannon Mullen is clearly talented, but she’s limited by the part. Making Sherrie sympathetic is one of things the movie does far better than the stage.
Rock of Ages is not a must see show, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. If you have a free night between now and August 24th and you miss acid washed denim, you should go order your tickets now.
**Sistic specifically says that kids under 13 will not be admitted. I saw some children in the audience that were much younger than that, so it wasn’t getting enforced. That said, this isn’t a kid-friendly show, so my advice is to leave them with a sitter. Who wants to be reminded that you’re a mom/dad when you’re there to rock?**