New York City and L.A. have an endless rivalry. It can be seen in music, fashion and overall lifestyle. Growing up in the ‘80s, there was not much I envied about L.A. After all New York City had it all, with the exception of Aqua Net teased, spandex clad, lipstick wearing studs turning themselves into Rock Gods. In the ‘80s if you had dreams of Rock stardom, you went to L.A. and in 2010 the old Sunset Strip has returned in like a totally major way in Rock of Ages on Broadway.
Rock of Ages is a hilarious musical comedy that explores following your dreams and the music of the great hair bands. Walking into the Brooks Atkinson Theater I felt as if I was entering a Mötley Crüe video. The strip was alive at the Bourbon Room, the setting for the musical, and was completed with a video monitor, huge signs and a band on stage. The Bourbon Room has all the makings of a sordid‘80’s bar where Rock ruled and debauchery was not far behind.
Emily Padgett is a wonderful as the young, naive Sherrie, the young small town girl who just arrives in L.A. in pursuit of an acting career. Her bright, bubbly smile and fantastic singing voice is a great addition to the cast, and her legs in those mini skirts are not so shabby either.
American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis was born to play the role of Drew, the sensitive rocker with a soul. His voice simply shines in this musical and it is no wonder why he received a Tony Award nomination. Maroulis shows why he will be an idol for a long time to come.
James Carpinello is comical as rock-star Stacee Jaxx. His portrayal of the out-of-control, self-absorbed frontman for the fictitious band Arsenal is extremely convincing.
Mitchell Jarvis is the true break out star of this musical as Lonny, the narrator and Dennis’ (the owner of the Bourbon Room) sidekick, played by Adam Dannheisser. Jarvis is a cola shooting through the nose crack-up as he takes the audience through the plot with humorous banter. The unrequited relationship between Adam and Lonny is also funny.
Paul Schoeffler is entertaining as the German corporate raider Hertz looking to rid the Sunset Strip of all its perversion and turn it into a clean, respectable place.
Tom Lenk and Lauren Molina are a scream as Franz and Regina. Their discovery of love through protests to keep the strip alive helps to add another layer to the plot. Michele Mais is simply marvelous as Justice, a role she has played since the start of Rock of Ages, the strip club owner with a heart.
The major component of Rock of Ages is of course the music and is the heart and soul of this production. It revisits the best of ‘80s hair bands with music from Poison, Journey, Styx, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sista and Asia. I particularly like the way in which the songs were used to illustrate the cast’s emotions. When Stacee Jaxx arrives at the Bourbon Room for an interview with a reporter, he sings Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” to describe what it is like to be a rock star. When Sherrie arrives, we are reminded of her innocence with “Sister Christian”. As the cast deals with conflict they belt out “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. The careful selection of the music in Rock of Ages is the reason why it is a winner and a musical that I predict will have a long life with multiple incarnations.
After almost a year on Broadway, it is apparent that this production is solidly built on Rock n’ Roll. But for me it is built on nostalgia. I thoroughly enjoyed singing along with the cast to songs that I used to listen to while doing my homework. I equally enjoyed watching the audience enjoy the performance. The audience was a tapestry of young and old faces and families. The idea that there was a “Sherri and Drew” in the audience that met and fell in love to these tunes and are now sharing them with their kids was a thought that was endearing to say the least. It was great to see how many young adults were in the audience enjoying the show, raising their lighters and rocking in their seats.
Another element of the show that sparked a hint of nostalgia was the parallel between the Sunset Strip and a beloved area of mine. The quest to clean up the Strip and make it “family friendly” is similar to the transformation of Times Square. When I was a kid Times Square was seedy with strip clubs galore and was not a place to be at night unless you were looking for sex or trouble. It was dark, dangerous and forbidden, and I loved it. Now that Times Square is a string of boulevards dedicated to corporate branding, it makes me miss the Times Square I remember as a child even more. In some respects, the soul has been taken out and replaced with a strip mall. One thing I took away from Rock of Ages is that grit is good. Long live Rock n’ Roll!