Horns up, rock out
Rock of Ages blends campy humor and ’80s power ballads
What started as a standing-room only crowd thinned out a bit throughout Tuesday night at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. This was most evident in the expensive seats in the first few rows, from which several audience members disappeared during intermission.
Perhaps they weren’t prepared for Rock of Ages’ first act—filled with crass humor, a bevy of raunchy strippers, and excessively loud and lowbrow arena-rock songs from the ’80s. Then again, that’s what made opening night of the production endearing and entertaining for those who stuck around.
Rock of Ages, which debuted on Broadway in 2009, is a jukebox musical featuring popular ’80s rock music from the likes of Journey, Styx and Whitesnake. It features a script by Chris D’Arienzo, direction by Kristin Hanggi and choreography by Kelly Devine; it’s in town until January 27, as part of California Musical Theatre’s Broadway Sacramento. Random local trivia sidenote: There’s a scene in the 2012 film adaptation of the musical, starring Tom Cruise, where the lead characters flirt at a Tower Records store (which, of course, was founded by Sacramento’s Russ Solomon).
Anyway, in the current touring stage version, aspiring rocker Drew (Danny McHugh) and a small-town girl (Journey-reference alert) named Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) meet on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. Their budding romance becomes complicated when big-time rock star Stacee Jaxx (Universo Pereira) turns Sherrie into a groupie and kills her dream of being a star singer. She eventually becomes a stripper, and in the meantime, Drew is forced to sing in a boy band called Street Boyz and adopt the alias Joshie J.
Yep, it’s a campy plot, and the fact that the musical doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever forces the production into some brilliant but weird comedic places for a stage—i.e., dick jokes galore and simulated man-on-llama sex scenes.
The biggest laughs of the night are delivered by a character (who also happens to be the narrator) named Lonny, played by Justin Colombo. With a MacGruber-style mullet and Jack Black-inspired mannerisms, Lonny’s irreverence for just about everything in life—except for rock music—makes him the ideal satirical ’80s character. Colombo creates humor by cursing a lot, performing awkward dance moves, acting hypersexual and talking to the audience. Indeed, his finest moments come during a scene where he stops the play and admits to the crowd how horribly the plot developed.
Ultimately, this production achieves the impossible: It makes corny ’80 power ballads—such as Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” Extreme’s “More Than Words” and Warrant’s “Heaven”—actually enjoyable. In fact, the house band, whose credits include making music with Lauren Hill, Papa Roach and Nikki Sixx, performed solidly all night long, playing anthemic power chords and extended guitar solos with the requisite “me” decade bravado. By the end of the night, the band and the whole cast had the crowd on its feet singing along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”