Rock of Ages entertaining, but not perfect
Take screaming vocals, streaming smoke and a quavering splash of synthesizer and what do you have? The opening act of the jukebox musical Rock of Ages, which made its return on a star-studded Tuesday night to Los Angeles, where the Broadway smash originally began.
Playing at the Pantages until Feb. 27, the Tony-nominated show features its original, appropriately awkward rock protagonist Constantine Maroulis as Drew, a haphazard, gawky rocker working at a club before he makes it big as his musician alter ego, Wolfgang Van Cult.
Rock of Ages takes place in the Reagan era in Hollywood. That‚Äôs right, a show about Los Angeles that started in Los Angeles but then went to New York, toured the world and then returned. Call it self-conscious, but it acts as a fitting and funny bookend, which the show pokes fun at endlessly.
The play is narrated by the puckish, brash and surprisingly sexy narrator, or as he calls it, ‚Äúdramatic conjurer,‚ÄĚ Lonny.
He is joined by a cast of cartoonish misfits that range from hyper activist Regina (rhymes with vagina), a stoic German developer and his flamboyant son and a sassy strip club madam. With the characters‚Äô talents, Rock of Ages serves up a steady onslaught of punch lines, guitar solos and crotch shots.
And the catch? All these lovely characters communicate within the context of 1980s metal hits, including classics from Whitesnake and Poison.
Anyone who has seen the show in its past versions ‚ÄĒ the original played mere blocks away at King King and the Vanguard before Broadway ‚ÄĒ will remember an absolutely head-bang worthy production with a small cast and a big sound, but this latest revamp has its distinctions.
With an all-new cast apart from Maroulis, who was born to play such a vocally challenging and adorable role, comes a mixed bag of performances. The addition of the explosive, heroin-fabulous MiG Ayesa is a welcome shot of cheap liquor after a day‚Äôs work. And no, that‚Äôs no typo. Ayesa first made his big-M, little-i, big-G name famous as a finalist on the short-lived reality show Rockstar: INXS.
Don‚Äôt write him off as C-list fodder just yet. Although he paints his eyebrows on his face, the man can absolutely carry tight jeans, a circle scarf and glittery tank tops with the swagger of a young Bret Michaels and can screech like Gene Simmons in his heydey. Ayesa takes command of the character‚Äôs raw sexuality and eerie eccentricity like no other actor before him.
Also notable was the addition of the delightfully spirited Teresa Stanley, who plays the ‚Äúbig mama‚ÄĚ in a salon of strippers. Though her character‚Äôs role has been noticeably cut down, her short bursts of earthy, no-nonsense belting go nicely with the hard rock background.
Add a completely overhauled, tighter slew of choreography, a stunning set and a band nothing short of absolutely badass, and this Rock of Ages brings past audience-friendly shows like Mamma Mia to its knees, despite some hitches.
Maroulis, who has played the role since 2005, seems a bit too comfortable and calculated in his role. Though he hits every note and delivers every line, there is a hop missing in his step, most notably to the former pinnacle of the second act, ‚ÄúSherrie.‚ÄĚ What was once a dynamic love number has become a rote stage transition.
Even more disappointing is the casting choice for the female lead, Sherrie. Actress Rebecca Faulkenberry somehow manages to take an adorable, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Kansas native yearning to be an actress into an inconsistent bore. To boot, powerful rocker-chick vocals on songs like ‚ÄúI Wanna Know What Love Is‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúI Hate Myself For Loving You‚ÄĚ start on missed pitches and heavy breaths.
The role of Regina, played by Casey Tuma, also misses the mark and turns a charmingly kooky Berkeley graduate into a nasal annoyance.
One cannot help but mourn for performers such as Amy Spanger, who originated Sherrie on Broadway, that balance the bouncy youthfulness of cute musical theater characters with the surly toughness of a female rock star.
What this production thrives on, however, is the evolution of a show that has really taken its identity by the reins without apology. Changes in the script allowed actors to freely poke fun at the supreme silliness and ridiculous conceits of a musical about the Los Angeles rock scene in which the Sunset Strip was touted as the city‚Äôs only cultural landmark. It‚Äôs the only Tony-nominated musical to feature a song in which a woman is, as Maroulis belts, ‚Äúreaching for my sack.‚ÄĚ
It is not afraid to break the fourth wall, handing out branded ‚Äúlighters‚ÄĚ to wave back and forth during ballads. Rock of Ages gets up on stage with a fist in the air and a pair of socks in its pants, unapologetically gyrating and wagging its tongue.
Though the show is neither anywhere near perfect nor original, it is, just like one of its numbers, ‚Äúnothing but a good time.‚ÄĚ
Rock of Ages runs Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. until Feb. 27. Tickets start at $25. For more information visit www.BroadwayLA.org.