When: January 29 through February 3, 2013
Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Boulevard, San Jose, California.
Tickets: $20-$75; call 1-408-792-4111 or visit broadwaysanjose.com
Show website: The show is touring through at least June 16, 2013. Visit rockofagesontour.com to see if it's coming your way.
In England we have a much-loved family Christmas tradition of the pantomime. The format is always the same: familiar characters and storylines, familiar songs and jokes, and the occasional cross-dresser. “Rock of Ages” is a bit like a panto, really. You go there knowing exactly what to expect, and you aren’t disappointed.
Plenty of familiar songs (if you like classic rock, that is), funny lines and yes, even a cross-dresser. The only difference is that “Rock of Ages” is not really a family show – unless your family is all over 18. Some risqué language, costumes and moves put paid to that.
We open in Dupre’s Bourbon Room, a sleazy, smoky, late-night music club in L.A. during “the Reagan years” that always puts on the latest rock acts. They’re hosting the rock band Arsenal’s last gig, as lead singer Stacy Jaxx has decided to leave the band.
Trouble is, the warmup band has backed out, so Dennis the owner needs to find a replacement. General dogsbody and budding rocker Drew (Dominique Scott) seizes the moment he’s been dreaming of and tells Dennis he’s ready. He quickly pens 3 or 4 songs and aces the audition.
Meanwhile young Sherrie, played by Shannon Mullen, newly arrived in L.A. to seek her acting fortune, has caught Drew’s eye, and he asks her out on a date. Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” soon turns into Foreigner’s “I’ve Been Waiting For a Girl Like You,” but Drew doesn’t have the courage to tell Sherrie how he feels.
The dance and song ensemble is excellent, though the skimpy outfits were rather distracting. The band members at the back of the stage must have been installed with special “booty filters” so they could continue playing without missing a note.
The band was excellent, truly excellent. As a rock guitarist myself, having played in bands and shows, I know how tough it is to coax exactly the right sound out of your instrument, especially when you are reproducing well-loved rock anthems. Lead guitarist Tristan Avakian does a masterful job and gets some well-deserved front-of-stage time. And the rest of the band could double for most of the players they are emulating.
While Drew has his sights set on warming up for Stacy Jaxx’s band Arsenal, Sherrie, unfortunately, has her sights on Stacy. Stacy is the archetypical lead singer and girl-puller, a la David Lee Roth, and when he suggests they find somewhere quieter, Sherrie doesn’t seem to care that it’s the men’s bathroom he has in mind. But one quick fling and he wants her out of the way, telling Dennis the bar’s owner to get rid of her.
She finds her way to the Venus Club, run by “Mama” Justice, played by Amma Osei – a wonderful voice and such remarkable breathing that I nearly expired waiting for one of her notes to finish.
While we’re on voices, I was impressed with Scott’s vocal range as well, especially on the high note at the end of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.”
Enter German developer Hertz Klineman who colludes with the mayor to tear down Sunset Strip, including the Bourbon Room, and build a bunch of strip malls. But the staff of the Bourbon Room isn’t having it, and led by the feisty Regina (rhymes with … oh, never mind), played by Megan McHugh, chain themselves together in protest, singing “We Built This City On Rock and Roll” (Jefferson Starship).
Regina falls for Hertz’s rather camp son Franz (“I’m not gay, just German”), who persuades his father to stop the development.
The multimedia set stays broadly the same throughout but makes good use of lighting, devices and rear projection to move the audience from place to place as required. Although I enjoyed the costumes and the dance routines and of course the songs, it was the hairdos that really took me back. From Lonny’s mullet to Dennis and Drew’s long ringlets, it was definitely the ’70s and ’80s.
If you like classic rock, you’ll love this show. Just sit back and “Don’t Stop Believing.”