REVIEW: Rock of Ages (Broadway in Chicago)

Strong performances resuscitate lame storyline


 Cast of "Rock of Ages" at Bank of America Theatre in downtown Chicago

Broadway in Chicago presents
Rock of Ages
Book by Chris D’Arienzo
Directed by Kristin Hanggi
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through October 3rd  |  tickets: $18-$85   |  more info

Review by Barry Eitel

One thing the folks producing Rock of Ages need to figure out is how to push the beer sales. Although it stated clearly in the program that you could purchase a beer ticket before the show and then raise your hand and receive a cold one, I did not pass along a single can. There aren’t a whole lot of musicals where it’s par for the course to stand up and sway around like you’re a drunken 40-year-old woman reliving her glory days at a Journey reunion show. That needs to be more of a selling point.

Kerry Butler as Sherrie in Broadway tour of Rock of Ages, now playing in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre Rock of Ages is a show that requires a few drinks in order to be truly enjoyable. Watching it sober, the vapidity becomes more obvious. The award-winning hair metal jukebox musical is undeniably fun. Most amazingly, the cast is even able to squeeze some emotional weight from the songbooks of Twisted Sister and Whitesnake.

The show features Tony-nominated Constantine Maroulis, one of an increasing number of American Idol contestants looking for work. Unlike many of his more unremarkable brethren, Maroulis pumps out oodles of charm alongside decent acting chops. With his long hair and arena rock howl, Rock of Ages is the perfect show for the guy. He plays Drew, the aspiring jukebox hero at the heart of this story. Instead of the typical Dionysian guitar slinger we’re used to, Drew is a sweetheart. Maroulis paints the character as shy and oft tongue-tied, a great move for a show that is otherwise thin on dramatic depth.

The real draw here, though, is the music. I don’t know if the fellas of Asia ever thought they would hear their tunes in a Broadway musical, but it works surprisingly well. The 80s were all about theatricality anyway, with the big hair, big voices, and big egos. Book writer Chris D’Arienzo stretches a few songs to fit the story (“Final Countdown” seemed forced, and Starship’s “We Built This City” was reprised far too many times). I did love the tale told through “I Want to Know What Love Is,” relating a date headed towards destruction. We all know the lyrics to these radio favorites, so it’s fascinating to watch how they unfold to help the story move along.

Rock of Ages survives because the cast can seriously sing. Maroulis has mastered that rare Steve Perry belt and gives his own personal touches to the anthems he sings. Rebecca Faulkenberry, who plays the object of Drew’s affection, Sherrie, also gives serious treatment to these often silly tunes. As a character, Sherrie falls flat, but Faulkenberry gives her as much life as she can. MiG Ayesa gives plenty of vocal power in his portrayal of Stacie Jaxx, the more typical hair-metal douchebag who sort of becomes Drew’s nemesis.

Constantine Maroulis and Kerry Butler - (2) James Carpinello and Company
Lauren Molino and Tom Lenk Constantine Maroulis and Kerry Butler Tom Lenk

Currently on loan from the Broadway run is Mitchell Jarvis, who originated Lonny, the mulleted sprite who narrates/conjures the story. He’s endearingly wacky, and aside from Maroulis, easily the most memorable part of the show. He prances, leaps, and twirls, like a mix between Tinkerbell and one of the guys from Metallica. Lonny lets loose plenty of self-referential one-liners (“I’m no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim”), which get tired after awhile. Arienzo is intent into beating us over the head with the fact that we’re watching a “different” sort of musical, one that pretty much embraces the form but isn’t afraid to let fly a few f-bombs. This is one of many areas where the book could be a bit more clever.

Jarvis and Maroulis’ performances save Rock of Ages from becoming a forgettable (and groan-worthy?) night of classic rock and 80s gags. The show will have you tapping your toes, and if you had a couple, singing along at the top of your lungs.

Rating: ★★½

James Carpinello and Kerry Butler

Constantine Maroulis and Company


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