Perf. Arts

'Rock of Ages' turns up the sound
Broadway show features songs from some of the top 1980s rockers

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 15, 2012

MILWAUKEE - We probably all like the music that brings us back to our youth when someone else was supporting us and tunes dominated our lives.

“Rock of Ages” is making a big noise on the stage at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and a formula for nostalgia for the 1980s crowd. The plot is thin and pretty predictable, the costumes are a clash of psychedelic colors, the amps are on high and musicians flip their hair a lot.

It’s about dreams, it’s about freedom, it’s about ambition, it’s about heartbreak, but all ends well, at least for most of the characters.  Sherri comes to Hollywood from Tulsa, Okla., with high hopes and a heavy dose of naivete. She meets Drew, a janitor with heady dreams of becoming a rock star. A realtor buys the Bourbon Club where he works and wants to tear it down and build something more profitable. Plot number two - save the music from the greedy German entrepreneur. Plot number three, four, etc. - protests and more people falling in and out of love, and father and son having an altercation. Lots of conflict, but the beat goes on.

The whole production is very campy. Even as the show is glorifying, along with the music and the rather seedy bunch who are promoting it, “Rock of Ages” is sort of parodying it, as well.

There is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude that comes through, and the tone is set by the narrator Lonny and the bar owner Dennis, who later dies and returns to sprinkle angel dust around. Nothing is to be taken too seriously here.

But, if the music of Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner and Pat Benatar and others are your thing, then come on down. The audience didn’t let loose the way they did for “Jersey Boys,” but many were having a good time, and their ears are probably still ringing.

The band was great, especially guitarists Chris Cicchino and Maddox, as well as the choreography athletic by Kelly Devine, the set design glitzy by Beowulf Boritt and the lighting dramatic by Jason Lyons. It is a production of mammoth proportions.

Standouts in the cast are Justin Columbo as Lonny, Matt Bann as Dennis, Stephen Michael Kane as Franz, Megan McHugh as Regina and Amma Osei as Justice (beautiful voice).

Dominque Scott as Drew was in a class all by himself. He has a pair of pipes that won’t quit, and we actually like the guy to boot.

Kane and McHugh both have a good comic sense, and Columbo and Bann, another unusual pairing, also are quite amusing, as well.  Their duet “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is the humorous high of the show.

Other memorable numbers were “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “We’re Not Going to Take It.”

The audience was diverse in age, and I imagine reactions were diverse, too. Judging from the reviews of both the Broadway show and the film starring Tom Cruise, people seemed to either love it or hate it - few in-betweens.