The big hair, outrageous costumes and screaming guitars of 1980s rock are hard to take seriously all these years later, so the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” wisely doesn’t. It presents the era as a joke that was also a heck of a lot of fun.
The show, which is performed tongue in cheek, centers on two stories – a romance between a young actress and a rocker, and a fight between a rock club in Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip and German developers who want to raze the street and make it into a sanitized strip mall instead.
But nobody buys tickets to the production for the plot. They’re all there to hear the songs, which are greatest hits from Journey, Night Ranger, Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake and more. Part of the fun of attending is watching the audience.
At Friday night’s opening performance of director Kristin Hanggi’s national touring production at Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts, audience members sang along to the songs, pumped their fists in the air and even, in at least one case, waved a lit cigarette lighter. By the time of the finale, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” almost everyone was on their feet, swaying in time to the music.
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The Tony Award-nominated show, written by Chris D’Arienzo, has been running on Broadway since 2009 with “American Idol” finalist Constantine Maroulis playing the young romantic lead. The film version starring Tom Cruise just came out this year. The tight five-piece band in the touring show plays at top volume throughout the show, making the production feel more like a real rock concert but sometimes making it nearly impossible to hear the lyrics or some of the dialogue. The actors have to occasionally yell their lines to be heard.
There is a lot of humor, much of it provided by Jack Black look-a-like Justin Colombo as narrator Lonny, who works in the Bourbon Club on Sunset Strip. Colombo distinguishes himself with his silly sleazy dance moves and his fondness for nun chucks. He talks to the audience, complaining that he wishes he was in a serious drama with complex characters rather than a show with “poop jokes and Whitesnake songs.” Note that this show is recommended for mature audiences.
Also providing the laughs is Universo Pereira as Stacee Jaxx, a composite character of every big hair metal star of the era. He loves himself passionately with little regard for anybody else.
Dominique Scott is handsome and shows off a powerful voice as the young rocker. He can hit high notes and hold a note for what seems like an eternity. Shannon Mullen is appealing as his love interest, wannabe actress-turned-stripper Sherrie. The show of course features Journey front man Steve Perry’s hit song “Oh Sherrie.”
Matt Ban is the wise father figure as Dennis, the owner of the Bourbon Club and a former musician in the Alan Parsons Project. Philip Peterson is uptight and stern as German businessman Heinz who wants to shut the club down and Megan McHugh is lovable as the refugee from the 1960s who organizes protesters to stop him.
All the female characters wear next to nothing, making little difference between the attire of the waitresses in the Bourbon Club and the nearby Venus Club, a strip club. Costumer Gregory Gale makes sure the men all have tight fitting pants to wear. Kelly DeVine’s choreography seems lifted from classic MTV videos.
Beowulf Boritt’s flashy set includes neon signs from the strip and a decked out nightclub. Video projections in the club show other settings, like a train station and Sherrie’s hometown as needed.
The Gallo Center originally booked the show to run through Sept. 23 but canceled the final date because of poor ticket sales. Only two shows remain today at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Maybe it’s because not enough fans of 1980s hair metal rock also like Broadway musicals. Or not enough Broadway musical fans like 1980s hair metal rock. Whatever the case, those who attend can have fun laughing at the excesses of what was an over-the-top decade in pop music.
“Rock of Ages”
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
WHEN: Today, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including an intermission
INFORMATION: (209) 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org