The Broadway smash Rock Of Ages has arrived in Las Vegas with its cast of long-haired 1980s rock stars, their big-haired rock babes, and the hits of Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Asia joined together by a wisp of a jukebox musical plot to make for over two hours of joyous nostalgia and hard rock “noize” (as in Quiet Riot’s 1983 cover of “Cum On Feel the Noize.”)
If Vegas seems a bit far afield for StageSceneLA, there is more than ample reason for Los Angeles theatergoers like this reviewer to head on up to Sin City. Rock Of Ages stars three of L.A.’s brightest young talents, Carrie St. Louis, Justin Mortelliti, and Mark Shunock, a trio of gifted triple-threats whose work has already earned each one multiple Scenies, and they are not the only L.A. performers likely to be calling Las Vegas home for months to come.
Just as the Mamma (Mia) of all jukebox musicals did with 1970s tunes, the ‘80s-based 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 like 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 seven 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.
Now Rock Of Ages takes the still-running Broadway hit to the Vegas Strip, the Venetian Hotel to be more precise, and those who found the lackluster 2012 film adaptation a letdown can rest assured. Instead of the movie’s needlessly rewritten plot, Las Vegas audiences can enjoy the bright and breezy original storyline, which may lack sophistication and depth, but more than makes up for it 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 and sound, and a rocksational onstage band led by music director Bryan McAdams, Rock Of Ages combines the pizzazz of a Broadway musical with the ear-splitting “Noize” of a classic ‘80s rock tribute, and for that reason may well be the most Vegas-friendly musical ever.
Just a year ago, St. Louis was a USC senior appearing in the annual spring musical City Of Angels and about to make her professional debut in ICT’s The Fix. Following that came the multiple award-winning World Premiere musical Justin Love, and now the role of Sherrie in Rock Of Ages. Not bad at all for someone who graduated from college last June. Then again, anyone who has seen the stunning blonde girl-next door with the big Broadway pipes on our L.A. stages should find her rocket ride to Vegas far from surprising. St. Louis’s Sherrie wins you over from her first wide-eyed entrance and keeps you in the palm of her hand even when a hard-knock Hollywood life has her pole dancing for sleazeballs, her heart as pure as ever.
Leading men Mortelliti (Drew) and Shunock (Lonny) are that rarity, actors who can cross over with ease from musical to straight play and back. Both have given powerful dramatic performances (Mortelliti in The Columbine Project and Expecting To Fly, Shunock in The Temperamentals and As Is) and won audiences over with their vocal gifts (Mortelliti in Twist and The Bedroom Window, Shunock in Altar Boyz and A Ring In Brooklyn). Rock Of Ages gives them the star vehicle they each deserve, and both Las Vegas and the show itself are better for their talents. Mortelliti’s Drew combines boyishness and edge, and belts rock hits to the rafters, in addition to having great chemistry with his onstage love Sherrie. Shunock’s Lonny is a powerhouse of raunchy, unrestrained joie de vivre, and don’t get him started on his prodigious manhood, or he’ll give you some of the funniest and most risqué physical comedy even Vegas has ever seen. And did I mention he too can belt out rock vocals with the best of them?
An absolutely terrific Alyson Nicole Bloom and a fabulous Kevin Hegmann make beautiful music together as one of the most improbable opposite-sex couples in musical theater history—Regina (rhymes with the “v” word), a diehard feminist city planner intent on keeping The Bourbon Room open for business and Franz, the flamboyant (“I’m not gay, I’m German!”) son of the man who wants to hit the Sunset Strip club with his best shot, the wrecking ball.
When last we saw Kyle Lowder, the Bold And Beautiful star was the quintessential Boy Next Door in the family-friendly period tale Meet Me In St. Louis. Cut to 2013 and he’s tattooed rock legend Stacee Jaxx with vocals to rival the hottest real-life heavy metal star and a sculpted torso ready for the cover of next month’s Mens’ Fitness.
Rock Of Ages benefits from a stellar song-and-dance ensemble: Patrick Joyce (Sleazy Producer, Joey Primo), Allie Meixner (Young Groupie), Amanda Miller (Waitress), Rob Peters (Mayor, Ja’ Keith Gill, Strip Club DJ), and dance captain Amy Ryerson (Reporter). Add to them “onstage swings” Adrianna Rose Lyons, Celina Nightengale, Brandon Nix, Jason Oles, and Dru Serkes, who not only understudy major and featured roles, but show off their own triple-treat talents at each performance, and you’ve got one stupendous cast of performers.
The Rock Of Ages Band is made up of McAdams on keyboard, associate music director David Richardson on keyboard, Chris Cicchino and Andy Gerold on guitar, Alan Childs on drums, and Dan Grennes on bass.
A flashy scenic design gives us multiple Sunset Strip locales, aided greatly by some spectacular LED projections, all of which work together to replicate the flash and glitz of a rock concert set, and particularly so in the Vegas show-ready Venetian. Rock Of Ages’ costumes capture all the gorgeous awfulness of 1980s leather, metal, denim, and hair, wigs, and makeup are equally era-specific.
Playing to sold-out audiences seven times a week at the Venetian, Rock Of Ages looks to be a popular Vegas Strip attraction for months to come…and even longer. It 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, this Rock does the trick quite sensationally indeed, and Las Vegas is all the better for having its cast of rockers doing their thing on the legendary Vegas strip.
The Venetian Hotel, 3355 S Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV.
March 27, 2013
Photos: Denise Truscello