‘Rock of Ages’ – That Other (Dirtier, Louder, Hairier) ’80s Show

By CB Adams
Contributing Writer

“Rock of Ages” showed up at The Fabulous Fox on its tenth anniversary tour for a three-day run starting March 1. In rock years, that’s…well, pushing 40 years since the soundtrack to our collective youthful heavy petting was transformed into a classic rock heavy rotation playlist.

In jukebox musical time, the two-hour performance shredded the space-time continuum with a party-like experience filled with big hair, bobbing head bobs and plenty of devil’s horns shoved defiantly skyward (by the actors and audience members alike).

There’s an apocryphal anecdote about Bob Dylan from way back in 1966. During a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a heckler expressed his displeasure at Dylan having gone from acoustic to electric. Dylan reportedly advised the Hawks backing him up to “Play freakin’ loud (only he didn’t say “freakin’”).

In an alternate universe, Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap fame would have been in the audience that night and taken Bob’s admonition to heart, and in turn counseled Stacee Jaxx and his band, Arsenal, to set the volume in “Rock of Ages” to Spinal Tap’s mythical “11.” A rock ‘n roll daisy chain dream, if ever there was one.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

“Rock of Ages” is the hit machine that keeps on giving. Not only did it earn five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, after it opened on Broadway in 2009, it has also been regularly rotated to St. Louis.

There’s no reason to think it won’t be back again, either (“Party on, Garth”). This show is just that much fun, in a “put another dime in the old jukebox, baby” sort of way, if you love – or love making good-natured fun of – the big haired, glammed-up, testosterone-y 80s rock, ala Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovi and other early-MTV dinosaurs.

One doesn’t see “Rock of Ages” for its trope-filled plot. You know, the one about girl leaves Kansas, meets boy (a wanna-be famous rock star) after being mugged upon arrival Los Angeles, gets a job at The Bourbon Room (a famous rock ‘n roll club), falls into puppy-ish love with boy, who also works at the club, loses boy after hilarious bathroom hook-up with Stacee Jaxx (a really famous rock star), loses her job at The Bourbon Room while the boy does too, reboots her career with new hooker hair and not-so-skillful pole dancing at a gentlemanly Venus Club while boy sells his rocker status for boy-band and/or pizza delivery lucre.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

And that is just the sub-plot to the father-son Teutonic duo that threatens to demolish The Bourbon Room and its sleazy Sunset Strip brethren to make room for Reagan/Bush-inspired, just-say-no, “clean living” establishments. Of course, by the end, girl gets boy and lives happily ever after in the LA suburbs and The Bourbon Room lives on, along with all those evergreen heavy-metal hits.

What turns this silly plot, which has about as much depth as the philosophical ramifications of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” into a jukebox hero is its combination of self-deprecating, double-down double entendres, meta awareness, pacing as rapid as a Nikki Sixx solo, and a continuously clever interweaving of story and song.

Tying all of these elements together at The Fabulous Fox was the narrator, Lonny, played by a commanding John-Michael Breen, who looked (appropriately)

The big-gunned Anthony Nuccio, as boy-interest Drew, proved more than up to challenge of big-belted songs like “I Wanna Rock” and “Oh Sherrie.” Katie Lamark as Sherri, the girl from Paola, Kansas, captured her character’s yin-yang of being starry-eyed (figuratively) and ball-busting (literally), especially on the songs “Harden My Heart” and “Shadows of the Night.”

Sam Harvey, making his national tour debut as Stacee Jaxx, was seamlessly slinky and sexy or just plain stupid and stoned, depending on the plot’s demands. 

“Here I Go Again,” which closed out the first act, was a performance highlight and obvious audience favorite. The song, with almost the entire cast joining in, exemplified the way “Rock of Ages” can improbably (and successfully) blend a “Glee”-worthy interpretation of a head-banging favorite with jazz hands and wink-wink humor.

To borrow a line from Dan Baird of Georgia Satellite fame, “Rock of Ages” is a love song (to the 80s) for the hearing impaired (i.e. the audience, after the show) with true “rock on” cred.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The 10th anniversary national tour of ‘Rock of Ages” performed at the Fox Theatre from March 1 to March 3. For tickets, visit Metrotix.com or call 314-534-1111.

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