Though the show's upbeat, humorous and vibrant style appeals to a diverse crowd – it was tailor made for Gen X-ers like myself who grew up in the mid-80s heyday of MTV spandex-clad hair bands.
Set in L.A.'s famed Sunset Strip in nineteen eighty-something and told through the music of bands like Night Ranger, Bon Jovi, Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner and Twisted Sister among others, “Rock of Ages” is the story of "small town girl" Sherrie Christian (played by the perfectly perky Shannon Mullen) and "city boy" Drew Boley (Dominique Scott) – both of whom come to Hollywood to find their dreams of fame and fortune. They both end up struggling like most young Hollywood hopefuls, working in fictional rock club The Bourbon Room (a send-up to the Whiskey a Go Go).
Providing both narration and comic relief is club soundman and Fogmaster 5000 operator Lonny Barnett (played by the hilarious Justin Colombo) – who between his silly and suggestive T-shirts, well-timed dick jokes and animated expressions was reminiscent of Jack Black at his most irreverent. His best friend (and eventually more), older hippie club owner Dennis DuPree (a fabulous Matt Ban), is the "father figure" to the Sunset Strip kids, until the future of his club is threatened by German developers who have convinced the Mayor to clean up the strip and replace it with strip malls. Leading the fight against the redevelopment is the Mayor's slightly off-center city planner, Regina (quirky Katie Postonik), more of a hippie than a headbanger, who declares, "I once jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to legalize pot, this is nothing!"
Amid the turmoil, Drew and Sherrie are trying to fall in love – but things seem to keep getting in the way, such as sexy, sparkly rocker Stacee Jaxx (in a show-stealing performance by Matt Nolan), lead singer of the hit band Arsenal and an amalgam of legendary hair band front men like Bret Michaels, Sebastian Bach, David Lee Roth, and Vince Neil. When Arsenal returns to the Bourbon Room, where they got their start, to play their final show, sparks fly between Sherrie and Jaxx, ending in a sleazy men's room tryst that leaves Drew feeling angry and betrayed. He pours his anger into his dreams of stardom, playing an opening set for Arsenal that garners the attention of a shady manager/record producer.
According to narrator Lonny, the first act of a musical must always end with a flourish of a number (and "jazz hands"), leading into a powerhouse performance of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," by the entire company, complete with jazz hands finale.
At the beginning of Act II, with the club shutting down, Drew and Sherrie have lost their way – from their dreams and from each other. She is swept into the seedy world of exotic dancing while Drew is turned into something he never wanted to be by his manager – a member of a boy band.
But happiness is eventually restored in the City of Dreams with the help of Regina (continuously crying "Power to the Proletariat!") and her protest, strengthened by the support of the German developer's equally quirky son, Franz, who helps convince his father to stop the redevelopment to the tune of Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City." Though they come from different worlds, the two find love, even though most of the girls on the strip believed Franz to be gay ("I'm not gay – I'm just German!" he declares, prancing off stage).
Stopping Sherrie from giving up and leaving on the next train back to Kansas, Drew delivers a powerful rendition of Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie," and they finally are able to realize the romance that has been blooming between them all along. The show finale fast-forwards a few years to find Lonny carrying on the club in homage of the now late Dennis DuPree and Sherrie and Drew setting aside their dreams of fame for love and a family. The final number, Journey's anthem "Don't Stop Believin'," performed by the entire company, got the entire audience on its feet dancing and singing along.
Filled with great one-liners, sexual innuendos, irreverent language and attitude and, most of all, loud rock and roll, “Rock of Ages” may not be for the faint of heart (or ear), but I really enjoyed this show for the sheer fact that it had me smiling, laughing, singing and entertained the entire time. Huge props go to the entire cast, on-stage “Rock of Ages” Band, directors Adam John Hunter and Kristin Hanggi, choreographers Kelly Devine and Marcos Santana, and the entire production staff for putting on a show that is just pure fun.
After the standing ovation and the house lights were raised, we continued to bang our heads to the sounds of Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages” as we spilled out of the theater and into the rainy streets.
Note: If you miss the brief run of “Rock of Ages” at the Fox, you can catch the film version of the musical when it hits theaters this June.