The key to a good jukebox musical isn’t just in the song selection, but how well those songs are used to prop up whatever flimsy excuse for a plot we have to suffer through while waiting to get back to the music.
What makes “Rock of Ages” an above-average jukebox musical is that not only is it very funny and self-aware; but it uses the music not only to establish a mood but to also firmly ground us in a time and place, namely the mid-to-late 1980s on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
Now I freely admit that I am the key demo for a show like this as hair metal (aka butt rock) of the era informed my adolescence and set the benchmark for coolness in my young life. For added perspective, this benchmark also included T-top Trans Ams and Tawny Kitaen, so take that for what it’s worth.
The touring production of “Rock of Ages” is in town for a brief Memorial Day Weekend stint at the Fox Theatre and is nothing short of an absolute blast of a musical.
Propped up on the back of hits from the likes of Poison, Warrant, Whitesnake, and Journey, “Rock of Ages” is at its heart a simple story of boy-meets-girl.
Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) is fresh off the bus from Kansas with dreams of being an actress when she meets Drew (Dominique Scott, the charming, unquestioned vocal star of the show), an aspirational drummer working as a barback at the Bourbon Room rock club.
The Bourbon Room is run by Dennis (Jacob L. Smith) who dresses like a cross between a hippie and a Hell’s Angel. His right-hand man is Lonny (the hilarious Justin Colombo) who also serves as the show’s narrator.
The show wouldn’t be half as entertaining without Colombo whose high energy and constant mugging at the audience make him sort of a dirt-bag version of Jack Black.
Sherrie and Drew seem destined for love until a fateful night when rock star Stacee Jaxx (Universo Periera) arrives at the Bourbon Room and seduces Sherrie with his rock-god wiles.
Unlike Tom Cruise’s take on Stacee in the movie version of “Rock of Ages,” the character works much better in smaller doses and as a total heel. Periera has a lot of fun with this part, fully throwing himself into the ridiculousness of 80s rock-n-roll excess.
Floating around all this is a side plot involving a father/son team of German industrialists Hertz (Philip Peterson) and Franz (scene-stealer Stephen Michael Kane) who want to tear down the Bourbon Room and replace it with a Foot Locker.
Rallying to save the Strip is dreadlocked protester Regina (Megan McHugh) whose pep is only matched by her secret affection for Franz.
This is all silly stuff and everyone involved is fully aware of that fact. Even the songs, as great as they are, aren’t overly revered and are treated with a wink and a smile and a righteous fist pump.
Lonny and Dennis’ duet of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” pretty much encapsulates the cheesy glory of this show.
But every song from “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to “Nothin’ but a Good Time” to “Here I Go Again” is delivered in full-throated gusto and supported onstage by a rockin’ band consisting of Brandon Ethridge, Tristan Avakian, Maddox, Bones Elias, and Tim Kelleher.
“Rock of Ages” is pretty much irresistible and by the time the “Don’t Stop Believin'” finale kicks into high gear the entire audience was on their feet.
This show is just a whole lot of fun and is guaranteed to be enjoyed no matter how long you grew your mullet in the 80s.
“Rock of Ages” is playing at the Fox Theatre through May 26. For tickets call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.