Rock of Ages is a jukebox musical that handily covers most of the best-known rock songs from the 1980’s. Like most jukebox musicals, it’s also a period piece, which means plenty of nostalgia for the fashion, decor and general mindset of the 80’s. The story takes place on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and follows the parallel fantasies of Drew, busboy at The Bourbon Room, who dreams of being a rockstar (stagename: Wolfgang von Colt), and Sherrie, a Kansas transplant in LA who dreams of being an actress. While The Bourbon Room struggles to resist being bought out by squeaky-clean German developers, Drew and Sherrie discover that being themselves is the only dream worth pursuing.
Rock of Ages Showcases the Best of the ’80’s
HE SAID: While the show might technically be a jukebox musical, I feel it sort of took that term and smashed it like a guitar at the end of a kick-ass set. For that term, I kind of expect to hear the best-of compilation of a particular artist. This took the best of an era and redefined what was possible with the material. Songs were re-arranged or given to members of the opposite sex providing new meaning to the music. And beyond a simple rock show, stellar mash-ups were created throughout the show which actually helped provide narrative meaning to the songs and character development for the people on stage.
SHE SAID: I did enjoy the liberties that they took with the songs, the mash-ups and gender switches, which made it more exciting because you never knew what was coming next. However, I still had the strong impression throughout that the plot was built around the songs rather than the other way around. Because of that, I think that this show is a bit better suited to those looking for a rock concert to throw their hair into than those looking for a musical to sink their teeth into. That being, said, the quality of the music was absolutely top-notch. With a killer onstage band and insane rock vocals, there was an electrifying energy that was really a joy to be a part of.
Characters Own Guilty Pleasure Genre
HE SAID: You are definitely right that the show is a bit light in the plot department. The thing is – the show knows that and makes no apologies, but rather rocks even harder because of it. The character Lonny (hysterically played by Patrick Lewallen), who serves as the guide/narrator through the show, even admits that he is in a show about “poop jokes and Whitesnake” and he loves it. There are shows that are pure entertainment that you can see are trying to be meaningful. This show owns its purpose, makes you laugh until it hurts, and just so happens to be touching at times.
SHE SAID: I did find it a little touching, if for no other reason than for a couple of hours, I was brought back to the indulgent idealism of the ’80’s. The characters are unapologetically following their dreams of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, which makes for an awesome distraction from the responsibilities of everyday life. I think that once the characters owned up to the kind of show they were all performing in, it gave me permission to fully commit to the guilty pleasure of the piece.
Rock Score Lets Vocals Soar
HE SAID: I think it’s safe to say that not everyone had that same issue. The people who came dressed up ’80s style, with their lighters in the air and singing along, had no trouble committing right away. But whether you are trying to see it as a rock musical or rock concert, the talent on the stage is undeniable. Constantine Maroulis, who originated the role of Drew on Broadway, obviously has his character down pat and his vocals are insane. He was hitting some high rock belts that I can’t even imagine getting close to. As funny and charming as he is, he plays the romantic lead, leaving funniest moments to go to Lewallen as Lonnie and Nick Cordero as Dennis to singing a lovely duet of confessing the bro-mance and Travis Walker as Franz whose exaggerated character left people in stitches when he finally stood up to his father.
SHE SAID: It is true that everyone onstage was jaw-droppingly talented. Almost every time someone opened their mouth I wondered how they produced that sound 8 times a week. As far as the women go, Elicia MacKenzie as Sherie produced a consistent, full rock sound while committing fully to all of the movement, which was insanely impressive. Teresa Stanley as Mother was also showcased sickeningly good vocals. The women who rounded out the ensemble provided solid vocal back-up and were dressed to re-create some of the best eye candy of the ’80s. Even I couldn’t take my eyes off of them!
Are You Ready to Rock?
THEY SAID: For a lot of people, the ’80s are the guiltiest pleasure out there. It was a time when everything was bigger. There were rock anthems, power ballads, big hair, and neon colors. If you look at this show from a “theatre person’s” vantage point, you might grumble at the lightness of the book. But A LOT of people come to this show from a “concert goer’s” vantage point – complete with lighters in the air and singing along with the music – and they might wonder why there was so much story. The important point for both sides is to let go – let it be what it is and we promise that you’ll have nothing but a good time.
For a full plot synopsis and history of Rock of Ages, see the wikipedia article. Rock of Ages, presented by Denver Center Attractions plays through June 26 at The Buell Theater in the Denver Center Performing Arts Complex. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.