'Rock of Ages' hits the Hippodrome

Jukebox musical salutes big-hair bands of '80s

  • Constantine Maroulis (at center) stars in "Rock of Ages," which is featured at the Hippodrome through Dec. 5.
Constantine Maroulis (at center) stars in "Rock of Ages,"… (Handout photo )
December 02, 2010|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Someday, if we're lucky, jukebox musicals will go the way of, well, jukeboxes, and creative types will concentrate solely on fashioning fresh plots peppered with brand-new songs.

Meanwhile, you might as well join the crowd and revel in the latest and certainly loudest entry in this genre, " Rock of Ages," now showing off its energy and its hair at the Hippodrome. The 2009 Broadway hit celebrates those heady, hard-thumping days of '80s rock, cramming in about 30 songs from the likes of Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Journey, Twisted Sister and Styx.

There's more music than story line, but as "Mamma Mia!" proved at the box office, that's hardly a drawback when a nostalgic kick is what you're really after. And this memory lane excursion definitely delivers a kick.

It would be a stretch to consider "Rock of Ages" a musical for the ages. It feels padded; each act, like some '80s band survivors, could use a little nip and tuck. And for a vehicle that's so much about songs, it's curious how many of them get short-changed. Some wrap up just when they reach optimum rhythmic charge and cry out for another chorus.

The plot, such as it is, feels almost intrusive after a while, but it has its diversions. The setting is a rock club called the Bourbon Room on L.A.'s Sunset Strip, where Drew, a shy, would-be rocker holds a menial job while hoping to get a break in the music biz. He falls instantly for the new waitress, Sherrie, who arrives from the Midwest with her own dreams of an acting career.

You don't have to be older than the '80s generation to spot the traces of Judy and Mickey in this setup. The 1930s-vintage cliches continue to pile up with the appearance of a father-and-son team of developers from Germany bent on demolishing seedy clubs on the Strip in favor of wholesome chain stores. Bourbon Room owner Dennis responds by booking a high-profile rocker named Stacee Jaxx, who got his start there, for a farewell concert.

Before you can say Bon Jovi, boy loses girl, owner loses club, boy nearly becomes a boy-band member and girl learns how to lap-dance. Of course, everything gets straightened out neatly in the end. Even the Germans see the light, 'cause the overwhelming point here is for audiences to have, like the Poison song says, "Nothin' But a Good Time."

The cast for the national "Rock of Ages" tour couldn't be more energetic or likable. Constantine Maroulis, who earned a Tony nomination originating the role of Drew, is nearly note-perfect, and not just vocally. He extracts great comic mileage from the geekiest moments, but also ensures that Drew registers as a genuine fellow. Rebecca Faulkenberry does dynamic work as Sherrie.

Patrick Lewallen is quite the scene-stealer as Lonny, a Bourbon Room employee and the show's narrator. That old narration device gets pretty creaky, but also takes some cheeky turns that Lewallen seizes upon to amusing effect. He gets a chance to shine musically, too, nowhere more so than in a literally uplifting duet version of REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling."

That duet involves a pairing you might not expect. Despite all the hair, makeup and tight pants, the heavy-metal world didn't seem all that gay-friendly, or even gay-aware, to me back in the day. But this show makes '80s rockers look as tolerant as the respondents to the military's just-released Don't Ask Don't Tell survey. Who knew?

Some queeny shtick gets rather thickly applied, though, especially when it comes to the role of the German youth, Franz, portrayed with dexterous vitality by Travis Walker. But the payoff is one of the show's funniest lines, when Franz's sexuality is questioned.

MiG Ayesa has the Axl Rose physique and clarion vocal cords to flesh out the crude character of Stacee Jaxx. The gravelly voiced Nick Cordero gets the cool, seasoned hipster factor down pat as Dennis.

Teresa Stanley registers strongly as a saucy, knowing, "gentleman's club" owner, Justice. Casey Tuma (Regina — pronounced with a long 'i,' of course) and Bret Tuomi (Hertz) do vivid work; same for the supporting ensemble. The onstage musicians wail away impressively; guitarist Chris Cicchino, in particular, gets in some fierce licks.

Director Kristin Hanggi has the production moving at a kinetic clip on Beowulf Boritt's big, colorful set. Gregory Gale's '80s-screaming costumes complete the picture. Those costumes are great at playing up the stereotypical sex-obsessed element of the metal-band milieu, with minimally clad women in perpetually suggestive motion (the bikini wax budget for this show must be considerable).

If you go

"Rock of Ages" runs through Sunday at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $57.90-$81.80. Call 410-547-7328 or go to france-merrickpac.com.

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