Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Gunter Glieben Glauchen Globen" - 'Rock of Ages' Nothin' But A Good Time, For Better or Worse

Theater Review

Rock of Ages
a musical of pop-rock songs from the '80s
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru October 3, 2010

With a nearly nonstop medley of 'hair metal' hits being the mane attraction, in service of a cheesy Sunset Strip fairy tale, "Rock of Ages" is not Shakespeare, Sondheim or Springsteen. It is not as good as Billy Elliot or several other things you can see in Chicago (or New York, where it continues to run on Broadway) and not even the best piece of theater I've see this week.

As a songbook musical, it is not as good as Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys or The Million Dollar Quartet and as a glam band rock concert it's not as fulfilling as seeing Bon Jovi (which I did this summer) or the Def Leppard/Poison tour of last year. It celebrates a musical style that makes for nice nostalgia but isn't my favorite, and doesn't even include the best of it (despite the title, no Def Leppard--they couldn't get the rights--nor Scorpions, Van Halen or Guns 'n' Roses; this Tribune review includes the song list, but Paradise City is erroneously listed as far as I could tell).

Rock of Ages can't fairly be called brilliant and despite some funny moments, I didn't find it hilarious. It's not a show I would recommend to my mother, nor is it a musical suitable for young kids. And although it was nice to see the Bank of America Theatre pretty well packed, with Rock of Ages' tour opening two-week run ending Sunday seemingly being far too short, this really isn't a show that anybody absolutely has to see.

But even with all that it's not, Rock of Ages is a lot of fun. Banal fun, but with enough self-awareness to make the schtick perfectly pleasurable for those willing to go with it.

The touring cast that hit Chicago stars Constantine Maroulis, who originated the lead role of Drew on Broadway and earned a Tony nomination (the show itself was nominated for Best Musical). The Tribune's Chris Jones called Maroulis "the rare American Idol alum who can actually act as well as sing" and I remember seeing him do a nice job in Rent long before he was on Idol (which I've never watched).

Joining Maroulis is Rebecca Faulkenberry, who is engaging and well-sung as Drew's love-interest, Sherrie, and Patrick Lewallen, who draws some of the night's biggest laughs as Lonny the narrator. In addition to large, enthusiastic cast, an on-stage band does a good job of pulling off the power chords.

Despite an overload of saccharin and schmaltz, Rock of Ages is creative and cheeky enough to count as a credible piece of musical theater, rather than just an '80s cover band. I appreciate that it brings people to the theater that might not ordinarily go, and even for those of us who are fans of more traditional (and predominantly better) musical theater, there's is nothing really all that wrong with it.

If, to quote Poison for the first time in my life, you "ain't lookin' for nothin' but a good time," head down to Monroe & State before Rock of Ages hits the road. And don't forget to bring your lighter for the power ballads. (Rock of Ages U.S. Tour itinerary)

Below is a clip of Rock of Ages' Broadway Cast (including Constantine Maroulis) on the 2009 Tony Awards. And since it reminded me, this is a link to a clip of Poison's Bret Michaels getting clotheslined at the end of a ROA-themed performance at the top of the Tonys.

And in case anyone is wondering, here's a list of My Top 10 Hair Metal Bands of the '80s:

1. Van Halen
2. Guns 'n' Roses
3. Def Leppard
4. Scorpions
5. Dokken
6. Bon Jovi
7. Whitesnake
8. Ratt
9. Cinderella
10. Poison

Purists might say that Van Halen, Scorpions and GNR don't belong in this category (I didn't include Metallica or Iron Maiden for that reason), so three more "pretenders" are Twisted Sister, White Lion and Night Ranger. I never was much of a Motley Crue fan and didn't know enough Tesla. And hmm, should I have included Triumph? But being Canadian, I group them with Rush, who I don't consider 'hair metal.'

And to be clear, Rock of Ages includes a healthy dose of what I more consider '80s pop-rock (REO Speedwagon, Journey, Foreigner, Survivor) as well as songs by true hair metal acts like Whitesnake, Poison, Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot.

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