Susan’s Musical Theater Talk: Rock of Ages


The Jewish tradition, I’ve been told, happens on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. C’mon. You know the drill: Chinese food and a movie. It’s a tradition I was raised on, myself.

I wonder if I’m seeing a new trend: on the night before Thanksgiving, Jews go to the theater.

Okay, so I only saw six people I know, out of how many thousand Pittsburgh’s Benedum Theater holds. But a trend’s gotta start somehow, right???

The show last night is completely relevant to my life. Rock of Ages is in town, with American Idol star Constantine Maroulis playing the role of Drew. I’m an avowed American Idol non-fan; I’ve watched about ten minutes of an episode in all the years since it began. I was more into the idea that Dee Snider would be on the bill. I’d seen a press release that he was joining the cast, but… a search at Blabbermouth tells me he’s actually on Broadway, not touring as I’d first heard. Dude, you dumped me for Broadway???? ME???

Yeah, apparently so. Buy more of my books, will ya, oh readers of this here Meet and Greet? I need to be a bigger star.

Anyway, Rock of Ages. The producers describe it like this:

“It’s the late 1980s and the final countdown is on for a legendary Hollywood rock club facing its demise at the hands of eager developers. When a young rocker hungry for his big break and a small town girl chasing her dreams land on the scene at this infamous venue, how far will ambition drive them? And will it be lights out for the club and all the regulars and rockers who have made it their home?”

Like I said, tailor-made for me. And then the music… Journey, Twisted Sister, Night Ranger, Styx, Extreme, Pat Benatar… the list goes on. Bon Jovi. Joan Jett. Foreigner. REO Speedwagon, whose “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” becomes a crux of the show. I may have progressed, musically, beyond this point, but that doesn’t mean there’s no small nostalgia attached to all those songs. After all, those are the songs that made ME almost take a couple of different job offers at New York City record labels. Those are the songs that turned me into the rock and roll writer you all love so much.

In a sense, that was my life up there, complete with the same ending my own rock and roll life has had. And while the storyline itself is a bit cliched — there’s even a self-referential line about how there needs to be a love interest — the message comes through loud and clear, and it’s this message that makes the show so freaking brilliant. The message that it’s okay to fail at a dream you thought you totally wanted. It’s okay to find peace and happiness with another sort of life — even one that’s more mainstream.

Because, really, how many of us with rock and roll dreams DO get to see them come true? And if you’re going to turn out like scene-stealing Stacee Jax, do you really WANT those dreams to come true? Ugh. Jax is a trainwreck, brilliantly played by MiG (anyone else vaguely remember him from Rock Star: INXS?). Horrible name; I wish he’d change it to something that sounds less like a Russian fighter jet.

I’ll let him keep the name if he keeps performing the way he did. Holy smoke, did he run off with the show — and that’s no small feat. The character of Franz is a hoot, Regina (pronounced with a long i — go on. Say it out loud. Best line of the night, “Your name rhymes with pussy!”) is annoyingly perfect, Lonny’s a scream, and Dennis … like Stacee Jax, I have known Dennis in my own past life as the city’s metal chick. Still, MiG as Stacee truly steals the show. He’s perfect: a washed up jerk who is labelled asshole by his entire band (who goes on to greater success without him), who can’t be bothered to get a girl’s name right but drags her into the bathroom anyway, who at times can’t stand up ’cause he’s so soused.

You know, I may miss a lot from my old music biz days, but I do NOT miss jerks like him.

All in all, this show is great fun. It’s raunchy the way the 80s were raunchy (I’m glad I didn’t bring The Boy Band!). It’s loud. It’s got a darkness that balances out the innocence of lead characters Drew and Sherrie. But ultimately, it’s a musical and the music is what it’s all about. Many of the beloved old hits are turned into mash-ups (see what watching Glee taught me?) — and like on Glee, they’re well done. The songs help move the story forward, they add color… I mean, hello? This is 21st Century Musical Theater. It doesn’t break new ground, but the handles the familiar structures and rules really well.

There are more musicals about music on the horizon, too. Memphis. American Idiot. And others not on my radar, or that I’m forgetting to mention here.

C’mon gang. Buy my books. Make me a star, and make those shows come here in search of the West of Mars Seal of Approval. Rock of Ages sure got it. What’s next?

Bring it on.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *