BY SYDNEY ALTMAN
The 1980s saw a generation defined by the sex, drugs, and rock and roll mentality. The rock music created in this infamous decade has touched the lives of many Americans and is the driving force behind Broadway’s latest hit, Rock of Ages, which came down to Ft. Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Rock of Ages is set in Los Angeles, California in 1987 and tells the story of a small town girl, Sherri, moving to the entertainment capitol of the world. While visiting the Sunset Strip’s most renowned bar and rock lounge, the Bourbon Room, Sherri not only obtains a job, but also sparks a romance with a big city rocker named Drew. While Drew and Sherri attempt to figure out their feelings for one another, drama on the Sunset Strip ensues as a corporate company tries to tear down the Strip’s most notorious landmarks, including the Bourbon Room. Throughout the musical, the songs of the 1980s highlight the events in the character’s lives.
Overall, the plot was very thin and drawn out. The audience was unable to have a deep emotional response to the story, because it was at times clouded with too much music, showing off the actor’s singing talents more than their acting chops. By the end of the overly long first act, many questioned whether the second act would be as dull as the first. However, the second half definitely proved to be a complete 180 from the first. The songs got better and the story was more enticing.
For the most part, the choice that the touring production made in actors was very good. Reprising his role as Drew, former American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis shined. He accurately depicted the role of a wannabe rocker with a soft side. His acting seemed sincere, almost as if the part was tailored for him. But, the best part about Maroulis’ performance was in his vocal abilities. The tone of his voice is perfect for the rock and roll songs he had to sing. He played the part so well that he earned a Tony nomination in 2009 for Best Actor and was selected to play Drew in the upcoming movie version of the musical.
Maroulis came in with prior fame, causing him to be an expected hit amongst the audience. But, there were other shining stars in the performance. The narrator, Lonny, played by Patrick Lewallen, was the surprise hit of the night. His flamboyant nature provided the uncontrollable laughter and comedic relief during the emotional moments of the show. Most of his one-liners were slightly inappropriate, but with a musical centered around the sex, drugs, and rock and roll motif, it was definitely expected. He was not only a great actor with perfect timing, but he also had a great singing voice.
Another great performance came from Rebecca Faulkenberry, who played Sherrie. She performed the unsure and confused newcomer well and had a perfectly pitched singing voice, which was especially apparent in her duets with Maroulis. Though others did have a special quality about them, these few standouts added a greater dimension to the story than any of the others.
In most musicals, the music simply enhances the emotional circumstances of the characters, but in Rock of Ages, the songs tell the story since the acting did fall a bit flat. The soundtrack included songs made popular by a wide range of artists, including Bon Jovi, Journey, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister and many more eighties icons. Though the songs were recognizable, most were mashed up with another song, detracting from the original versions appeal. Though mash ups often add dimension to characters’ emotions, these just clouded up the real meaning behind the classic songs. When a song was played alone, for example, the final song, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, it was hypnotizing and infectious. The song choice was kicked up a notch with an amazing band that played each song with great power and talent. The musicians were so gifted, in fact, that you could listen to them play a full-length concert and you would be completely enthralled.
Aside from the acting and singing, the costumes and set were expertly done to accurately illustrate how the 1980s actually looked and felt. Many actors had mullets and wore jeans or leather, whereas the actresses had voluminous hair and were scantily clad as if inspired by retro Madonna.
All in all, though the musical has a flat storyline, Rock of Ages ends up being a fun and enjoyable. The true experience comes from the infectious atmosphere and songs that liven up the typically stiff theater. Rock of Ages will ensure that you “Don’t Stop Believing” in the ‘80s.