Rock of Ages at the Orpheum Theater

Get ready to rock, folks, Broadway is finally sharing its star-building power with music’s bad boys and their millions of fans. The national touring production of Rock of Ages, which opened at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis last night, is no Motley Crue concert, but it certainly pays homage to the power of the music on which everyone who calls themselves “rocker” still stands.

As much about sex as it is about music, the show takes the familiar boy-meets-girl plot and places it on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in 1987. Still famous, it was slipping down the backside of its rise to questionable glory, so given the setting, I suppose the emphasis is historically accurate.

“Drew,” played by American Idol alum, Constantine Maroulis, is written as a timid, conflicted rocker-wannabe – an interesting angle, but it didn’t do much to get the beginning of the first act off the ground. Marsoulis is enormously appealing, however, and proved he’s got some darned respectable acting chops, as well. It was all a good deal of campy fun, to be sure, but it fell to a supporting character, “Stacy Jaxx,” played flawlessly by MiG Ayesa, to take the show to “Let’s rock!” From fronting the seriously good on-stage band, to hustling the waitresses, to puking off the stage, Ayesa didn’t miss a single nuance available to him.

Of course we all knew that Maroulis’ character will go for his dream and get the girl; we just had to wait a little longer to hear him deliver the goods with those famous pipes. Rebecca Faulkenberry, who played his love interest, “Sherrie,” has great vocal range and power, but most impressive was her ability to keep her small-town, good-girl persona while doing raunchy stripper moves in an equally provocative costume. I’m still puzzling over that one.

A lot of the fun of this show is in the novel treatment of familiar tunes – all 30+ of them, such as Journey’s “Anyway You Want It,” Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City,” and Survivor’s “The Search is Over.”  The audience not only saw the jokes coming, they could sing along and help deliver the punchlines.

An enormously talented cast delivers on a varied roster of characters. The dancing, in particular, was spectacular. I could gush about the gifts of anyone in the ensemble just as much as Patrick Lewallen as “Lonny,” and Travis Walker as “Hanz” – so broadly drawn that you were going to laugh at them. Period.

The show straddles that awkward space between the rock world and the Broadway show world, which are really on separate planets in terms of sensibilities. In this case Broadway wins, but it has to take some pretty sharp jabs in the bargain – hilarious satire for anybody who can only get so far with the whole Broadway thing.

Nobody’s going to this show for the great story, so people who have no appreciation whatsoever of rock music and the lifestyle that goes with it should probably stay home. Everybody else is going to have a great time. Rock of Ages runs through October 24.

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