The ‘80s have taken over the O.C. as the Broadway smash Rock Of Ages arrives at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts. Long-haired rock stars, big-haired rock babes, and the hits of Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Asia come together with a wisp of a jukebox musical plot to make for two hours and twenty minutes of joyous nostalgia and hard rock “noize” (as in Quiet Riot’s 1983 cover of “Cum On Feel the Noize.”)

Just as the Mamma (Mia) of all jukebox musicals did with 1970s tunes, Rock Of Ages finds ways to string together thematically unrelated hit singles into a slight but entertaining storyline, this time focusing on a pair of star-crossed lovers, Drew Bowie (“born and raised in South Detroit”) and Kansas-bred Sherrie Christian (as in “Oh Sherry” and “Sister Christian”), pursuing their dreams on L.A.’s Sunset Strip.

Since every plot must have its complications, just as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Drew’s dream of rock stardom as “Wolfgang Von Colt” and Sherrie’s of TV/film stardom as herself are compromised by a trio of visitors to the Strip. Father-son German developers Hertz and Franz want to tear down Sunset Boulevard’s “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” landmarks (e.g. The Bourbon Room, where Drew works as a busboy and Sherrie as a waitress) and put up a brand-spanking-new shopping-entertainment complex. Complicating Sherrie’s life is rock star Stacee Jaxx, under whose spell the smitten young Midwesterner falls, only to find herself seduced, abandoned, in need of a job, and with Drew no longer by her side as Act One draws to a close with Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.”

Rock Of Ages debuted five years ago not far from the Strip it celebrates in an East-Of-Vine nightclub called Vanguard. Three years later it had made it to Broadway, its sensational director Kristin Hanggi and bookwriter Chris D’Arienzo still on board, but with an otherwise (almost) all-new cast and crew, and significantly expanded from the original intermissionless ninety minute show this reviewer caught back in 2006 as an Ovation Awards voter.

Now Rock Of Ages is back in Southern California, and what it lacks in sophistication and depth, it more than makes up for in terrific performances, a good deal of laughter, and most of all, over two dozen ‘80s hits, including “We Built This City,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Harden My Heart,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” With rock concert-ready lighting (by Jason Lyons) and sound design (by Peter Hylenski), and a rocksational onstage band led by music director Brandon Ethridge (musical supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Ethan Popp), Rock Of Ages combines the pizzazz of a Broadway musical with the ear-splitting “Noize” of a rock concert.

Every single member of Rock Of Ages’ First National Tour has power pipes to belt to the back row, so the following comments are in addition to the cast’s collective vocal prowess. Fresh from the Original Broadway Cast where he scored a Tony nomination for the role, Constantine Maroulis is dynamic and loveable as Drew. Opposite Maroulis and sharing great chemistry with the American Idol finalist is Rebecca Faulkenberry as a cute, sexy Sherrie. Patrick Lewallen’s Lonny steals scenes right and left, particularly when his narration breaks the fourth wall. Casey Tuma is a hilariously nerdy Regina, Travis Walker a flamboyant delight as Franz, and MiG Ayesa an almost impossibly chiseled, sexy Stacee Jaxx. Nick Cordero is a goofy gangly teddy bear as Dupree, Teresa Stanley one hot mama as Justice, and Bret Tuomi a comically villainous Hertz. The multitasking, couldn’t-be-better ensemble is made up of Angela Brydon, Lindsay Janisse, Lauralyn McClelland, Rachad Naylor, and Justin Matthew Sargent, with Erika Shannon, Sean Jenness, and Holly Laurent providing offstage vocal backup. The Rock Of Ages Band is made up of Ethridge on keyboard, Chris Cicchino and David Gibbs on guitar, Alan Childs on drums, and Jonathan Skibic on Bass.

Beowolf Boritt’s scenic design gives us multiple Sunset Strip locales, aided greatly by Zak Borovay’s spectacular projections, replicating the flash and glitz of a rock concert set. Gregory Gale’s costumes capture all the gorgeous awfulness of 1980s leather, metal, denim, and fishnet. Design kudos go too to Tom Watson’s hair and wigs and Angelina Avallone’s makeup. Michael Danek is production stage manager.

Just as January’s Hair brought back the turbulent ‘60s to musical theater life, so Rock Of Ages does for the politically calmer but considerably louder ‘80s. Though this reviewer was more likely to be listening to Debbie Gibson, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, and WHAM from ‘80-’89 than the rock bands saluted by Rock Of Ages, anyone who lived through that decade can’t help but have a soft spot for the hard sounds of the glam metal bands that have become synonymous with the rock scene of the Reagan years. Rock Of Ages may not be a musical for the ages, but as a nostalgic look back at the days when synthesizers, drum machines, and a bold androgyny left their mark on the pop music scene for good, it does the trick quite rockingly indeed.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
–Steven Stanley
March 1, 2011
Photos: Winslow Townson

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