I hated the ’80s. The vapidity, narcisissm, and machismo of hair metal epitomize everything that made me miserable during the reign of Reagan. And yet, I had a great time at the Pantages opening of Rock of Ages last night. The jukebox musical craftily written by Chris D’Arienzo and exuberantly directed by Kristin Hanggi treasures the pure-pleasure hedonism of the music while utterly deflating its pomp and pretension.
Rock‘s a thoroughly cheesy show with a predictable plot and stock, stereotyped characters that too often draw on racial, sexual, and ethnic stereotypes. But it’s just so much fun, largely because of blow-out performances by divas (male and female) who get the connection between MTV hard rock and Broadway musical just right. Constantine Maroulis is pitch-perfect cute and charming — Warner Brothers needs to give him the lead in the movie version. Patrick Lewallen conducts the show as the Shakespearean fool lighting guy with the swivel hips and jazz hands. Rebecca Faulkenberry belts her way out of the eye-candy burlesque bubble. MiG Ayesa preens and prances and writhes and pukes as the Axl Rose-esque overcooked rock star. Travis Walker and Nick Cordero rise above their cliched roles.
Rock of Ages manages to resuscitate and make meaningful again overplayed, overwrought 1980s anthems like “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Without an original score, it’s no Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rent, or Hair. But it’s about as much fun as you can get from a night in the theater.
And since it was opening night, it was a star-studded event. Weird Al Yankovic and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a lot of Botoxed, blown-out celebs who looked like they are or were almost famous — and probably were. I thought we were behind Jack Lemmon, but he’s dead, so trying to figure out who it was. I suck at recognizing celebrities.