Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Rock Rock "Til You Drop


Sunday I went with my Mom to the city to see the Broadway spawned rock musical Rock Of Ages. A play set in the late 80s on Los Angeles famed Sunset Strip featuring characters breaking into fist pumping rock anthems and flick your bic power ballads. I knew little about the show going in other than it starred American Idol alum Constantine Margoulis (did I spell that right? I might have that spelling confused with that girl from ER that's now on The Good Wife. I'm just going to go with Constantine as his name-o). So I had minimal expectations as I settled in my seat at the fancy Curran theatre.

Rock Of Ages turned out to be a lot of fun, played out with equal parts honest passion and nostalgiac snark. Like the simple themes of the songs they cover, the story runs through infatuation, love lost, and love found amid naive dreams and big city sleaze. Focusing on the parallel lives of an aspiring rocker and an aspiring actress while evil developers threaten to destroy the Sunset Strip, the story is as basic as a two part episode of Saved By The Bell. Clearly knowing this, the play is packed with 80s pop culture references (wine coolers!) and narrated by a hard rock goofball. When the narrator breaks out Playwriting For Dummies to read the instructions on how to end the first half of the show, you know this isn't meant to be serious.

But the story isn't the real value here anyway, it's just there to set up situations where easily licensed songs can be used to dramatic effect. And used dramatically well they are with close attention paid to lyrics to ensure it fits the characters / moments perfectly. Moments like when the girl character turns to stripping to the tune of Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart" or when the boy and girl duet their lost dreams to Damn Yankee's "High Enough" allow the music and drama to gel perfectly. Interesting themes develop in song selection with Twisted Sister representing rockin' attitude, Foreigner meaning sex and REO Speedwagon backing male affection. Plus three Journey / Steve Perry songs!

The cast is sharp and thoroughly strong from top to bottom. Constantine Maroulis shows he still has that rock star wail. And maybe because he's playing a character that annoyingly hollow brooding frozen stare he used to do on AI is replaced with likeable, Hugh Grant style stammering. I didn't catch the other names of the actors, but from the lead girl character Sherrie, the David Lee Roth style rock star, to the Berkeley protest hippie to the dasdarly fey German developers all roles are filled memorably.

Rock Of Ages succeeds in bringing back an era when music was loud, fun and tamely naughty. Sort of like a two hour version of Pat Benatar's "Love Is A Battlefield" music video. It's interesting in how the play can command ticket prices that none of the original artists can these days. Anyway, none of it is monumental but it's not meant to be. Like the taped David Coverdale intro to the play, Rock Of Ages is fun served up with a knowing wink and an unabashed smile.

1 comment:

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