Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review of Rock of Ages at the Helen Hayes Theatre in New York City


There more than enough shows on Broadway at any given point in time, and most of them are not first run shows. These other shows are there to provide tourists with something to see every night of the week, and some of them are pretty awful. Fortunately, Rock of Ages does not fall into this category.

If you have seen the 2012 Tom Cruise movie version of this show, then you already know what it is all about. It is the story of Sherrie, a wanna-be actress who hits Hollywood’s Sunset Strip straight off the bus from Kansas, who meets Drew and gets dragged into the seedy underbelly of the 1980s Hollywood music scene. Drew is a flunky at The Bourbon Room, a fictional rock club that is having its own share of troubles with the city. All of this comes to a head when the clubs management gets the idea of trying to save the club by having Stacee Jaxx and his uber band, Arsenal, perform their farewell show at the club. There are plenty of clich├ęs and a wafer thin plot that results in Drew getting his big shot at stardom by having his band open for Arsenal. Hilarity ensues.

Ok. Rock of Ages is not nearly as bad as the preceding paragraph makes it seem. This show is saved by the endless soundtrack of 1980s rock and the solid performances that are turned in by the performers. Of course, it will only make sense if you lived through and enjoyed the rock scene back then. If not, you better find another show to see.

Rock of Ages originally opened in Hollywood back in 2005, with a book by Chris D’Arienzo, and score by your favorite hair bands of the 80’s, including Journey, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, Poison, Bon Jovi, Styx and many more. A jukebox musical, if you will. After various productions popped up around the US, it finally opened on Broadway in 2009 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, and then the Helen Hayes Theatre in 2011, where you can find it today.

The Helen Hayes Theatre is the smallest theatre on Broadway, with a tad under 600 seats. It opened in 1912, at the Little Theatre, and was named after Ms. Hayes after her namesake theatre was demolished in 1983 to build the Marriott. Rock of Ages is the most financially successful production ever to play there. Rumor has it that the theatre is up for sale -- real estate is expensive in Midtown Manhattan, you know.

The show features a live band on stage most of the time, and it is a corker. Henry Aronson is the musical director and mans the keyboards. Night Ranger and Trans Siberian guitarist Joel Hoekstra is also on hand, so he ought to know how to play “Sister Christian.” Blondie’s guitarist, Tommy Kessler is also on hand, and the rest of the group includes Winston Roye on bass and Jon Weber in the drum cage. This band kicks ass, and playing in it would be my dream gig. I’ll wait by the phone in case somebody gets sick…

The cast is also very good, though with two dozen songs there is very little acting to be done.

Kate Rockwell takes the role of Sherrie, and she is gorgeous with the voice of an angel. Her wig for when she was playing the good girl was totally not in the 1980s style, but when she took on the stripper role, they did a much better job with her hair (I notice these things). Her soul mate, Drew, was played by Justin Matthew Sargent (yes, that is the way you spell it), and he did a passable job. His voice is strong, but was quite shrieky and it grated on my nerves by the end of the show. He made me wish Stacee Jaxx had gotten the girl in the end, to be honest.

My favorite performances were Joey Calveri’s portrayal of Stacee Jaxx, Adam Dannheisser as Dennis (the owner of the Bourbon Room), and Genson Blimline as Dennis’ assistant, Lonny. Glimline stole the show, and he was a real treat to see! The rest of the cast was certainly talented, and with the number of shows they perform, they certainly have had the opportunity to hone their roles.

The sets, sound and lighting were up to snuff for a Broadway production, and I the costumes were right in line with what I would expect for a 1980s hard rock-insipred musical. The day-glow lingerie was to die for.

There were a few downers for the show. The audience was mostly really old tourists, and they did not get into it at all. The freebie Coors Light LED cigarette lighters went unused by them, as ½ the people in my row were asleep, and the rest of them did not come back after the intermission. Also, 2 ½ hours is too long to sit in this cramped theatre, especially after downing a few 8-dollar beers and waiting in line for the tiny restrooms. I will try to find another place in The City to catch a show next time.

Anyway, if you can put these things aside (and if you are familiar with the music), you can have a really good time at Rock of Ages. It is playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre, which is located at 240 West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

By the way, I see that the show is also playing at the Venetian in Las Vegas. This might be the hot ticket, and I will have to check it out the next time I am in town. Watch for my review later this year.


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