"Never have I had so much fun at a theater show!" was just one of the many excited comments I heard after the touring company of "Rock of Ages" turned the Palace Theatre in downtown Columbus into an arena-style rock show mixed with a broadway musical. And I couldn't agree more. Brought to us by Broadway Across America Columbus and CAPA, last night's opening performance of the 80s rock spectacular (yes, I said spectacular) left this theater-goer on his feet and wishing he had a lighter to salute the band and cast at the end of the show (don't worry --- they sell little lights at the merch table out front so you can hold it high and sway at the power ballads and everything).
Bookwriter Chris D'Arienzo gives us a self-reflexive show that takes 80s rock classics from rockers like Journey, Stxy, Pat Benatar, Poison, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, and more, and weaves their tunes together through what some might call a cliche story. If 80s glam love in L.A. in the face of the corporate annihilation of a city's rock legacy is cliche, than bring it on. A familiar story, yes, but the creative team behind this musical did something unexpected and never ceased to surprise me with how they integrated each rock hit into the show --- and yeah we all know how these 'boy gets girl' tales play out, but trust me when I tell you there will be some wicked awesome surprises along the way.
The show's leading man, Constantine Maroulis (of American Idol fame), showed us why he earned a Tony nomination for this role. Playing the shy city-boy wanna-be rocker Drew, who pines for the small town girl named Sherrie (Rebecca Faulkenberry). Maroulis' vocal range and powerhouse voice brought home numerous applause and ovations once unleashed. Faulkenberry held her own with her co-star, belting out a mix of heart-breaking power ballads and unleashing her own inner rocker throughout the night. The two have wonderful chemistry and easily command the stage.
But like any great band, it's everyone on stage that brings it together, starting with the Patrick Lewallen who played Lonny the sound guy and our narrator throughout the evening. Giving us just enough self-awareness to let us embrace any cliches, his emcee style gave those in the audience who maybe weren't as familiar with the music (or the world of the 80s in general) a guidepost and way to connect with the show and get some of the many in-jokes. For those in the audience who look at the clothes, the music, the hair, and think "That's my yearbook!" -- the show will have you rolling by the end. Lewallen, never shy and in your face with his rocker/theatrical antics, keeps the comedy going and displays an enormous level of comfort with himself and the material.
Other notable treats throughout the night include Teresa Stanley as Justice, whose malfunctioning mic did her no favors -- thankfully her sassy attitude and powerful voice came through nonetheless; Nick Cordero (as Dennis Dupree, owner of L.A.'s The Bourbon Room), steals the show with Lewallen during their rendition of "Can't Fight This Feeling"; Travis Walker dazzles and delights in his turn as Franz; and as the hyper-sexed self-centered rocker Stacie Jaxx, MiG Ayesa -- well, you almost have to see him to believe it. But yeah, MiG Ayesa nails the bad boy hair band rocker image and does it with gusto (read an interview with MiG Ayesa on the CAPA blog).
The show was not without some tech glitches that will hit any touring show on opening night in a new space. A misfiring mic here, a delayed start there, hey -- it happens. The delayed opening or stretched intermission is nothing different than a concert. And at least here you get a cushy seat (though short on the leg room for us tall guys) to wait out any delays. I never once thought it ran long -- if anything, it ended where it should and I would've stayed for an encore. This Broadway musical functions as both a stage show and a rock concert --- so for those not used to going to rock concerts, just relax and go with it. You'll have fun.
Kudos to the design team on a killer set, complete with multimedia, concert style lighting, and yes, fog machines. I told you -- it rocked. The Palace Theatre is not a big stage and they make it work with a morphing set and scene changes that go by in a blink. The fast-paced energy of the Kristin Hanggi directed show is supported and enhanced by the blend of broadway and arena concert tech.
My review would not be complete without a shout out to the Rock of Ages Band, who are more or less on stage throughout the show, playing in The Bourbon Room, and how much they truly rocked this concert within a musical. Their sound was fantastic, supported the singers on stage, and they gave us one of the best curtain calls I have ever witnessed.
There you have it. If you like the music in "Rock of Ages" (big 80s power rock), go see it. If you like to have fun at the theater, go see it. If you're too young to remeber the 80s, but you play a lot of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, go see this show. And mostly, if you're looking to rock out, have fun, and see a touring company bursting with talent own the stage and get you on your feet --- don't miss this show!
“Rock of Ages” runs Dec. 7-12 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street, Columbus. Tickets are $22.50 to $77.50, call 800-745-3000 or visit Ticketmaster.com.
Note: I was invited by Broadway In Columbus to review "Rock of Ages" as one of their volunteer online bloggers. I received no compensation for this review and the opinions are strictly mine.
Thoughts. From my brain. Anything to do with how we tell stories and the stories we tell each other. Literally and figuratively.
Writer. Husband. Father. Effulgent dreamer. A Fightin' Irishman (@NDdotEDU '01). A playwriting Bobcat (MFA in Playwriting, @OhioU '13). I write plays. I'm a geek. I wanted to be an astronaut. I go places in my head.