When Constantine Maroulis battled Carrie Underwood for American Idol supremacy in 2005, the Jersey boy was the dark, brooding rocker, as edgy as that show gets. His preceding reputation was one of prickly, gloomy stealth — which in reality is, like, totally wrong. • Now 35, Maroulis is happy, giddy, goofy, mainly because the Tony-nominated singer is the star of '80s homage Rock of Ages, the Broadway phenom now touring the country. It arrives at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday for a six-day stay. • Set in 1987 on West Hollywood's Sunset Strip, the jukebox musical about a struggling rock joint and the dreamers within celebrates the music of Journey, Survivor, Poison and more. It is unabashedly hairy and silly — and '80s-obsessed America can't get enough of it. • With his show coming to town, Maroulis chatted up Stuck in the '80s boys Sean Daly and Steve Spears about hirsute rock, scoring that Tony nom and whether Idol helps or hinders a guy trying to make it on Broadway.
We're '80s archaeologists, fearlessly digging for deeper meaning into the fluff of that decade. Why do hair metal and cheesy rock anthems have such a hold on the culture?
I'm still trying to figure it out. That's what keeps me going and getting me through that journey each night. No pun intended. I think there's just an innocence about the whole thing that's so unique to popular music. The birth of the music video. The fantasy. The clothes. The makeup. The girls doing the guys' hair.
And then it vanished.
The whole culture that came with it just kind of evolved and then it just left. Nirvana just kicked it out the door. And now, we never wanted to let it go. It's still here. It's so nostalgic.
Thanks to Rock of Ages.
We provide a unique service for people at the theater. We throw a huge party every night, and now that we're on the road, we get to do it in front of two or three thousand people every night. (On Broadway), we only played to a thousand a night.
So is it a Broadway show or a time machine?
It's a sophisticated Broadway show — definitely — and an artistic achievement. But as soon as you walk into the theater, you have hot girls selling drinks and T-shirts and the preshow music is playing. The whole place is decorated. We really take them into that time, and people just kick back and have a great time, sing along, wave their little LED Rock of Ages lighters.
You step into the shoes of legendary singers, belting tunes by Steve Perry, David Coverdale, Lou Gramm. Any butterflies when you first saw the songs you had to tackle?
I don't think I was intimidated. I actually really welcomed the challenge. I love those guys, and they're the greatest vocalists. Not to be a corny actor, but the show is crafted so well by Chris D'Arienzo, our writer, that he's made it easy for me. He's written the songs into the scenes, and my character just has to sing them. They build up — and it just comes flying out of my face.
Tell us about your character, Drew.
He's the aspiring rocker. He's the grounded, truthful character in the show. In fact, he probably went on to write more '90s-type stuff. I've been playing with that idea lately. I've been relating to that movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg. He's kind of into grunge at the end.
Have you met any of the bands whose tunes you sing?
We've met everybody — members of Journey, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger. Def Leppard has come to the show. Rock of Ages is a big Def Leppard song, but we didn't get the rights to the music. Now they're p----- because they love the show. They'll probably be a part of the movie version or the London production.
You scored a Tony Award nom. Was that the same night Poison's Bret Michaels was injured on stage when he ran into part of the set?
It was. It was scary. I was sitting in the front row, digging the number. When it was done, he was supposed to jump on the platform and it was supposed to come off stage. He was still rocking out, and this heavy scrim just knocked him and turned him over. His hat was spinning around downstage. It looked like he was decapitated. I literally grabbed my mother's arm and thought, "Oh my god, he's really hurt." He was cool and dusted himself off. We just love Bret, and he's been a huge part of our Rock of Ages experience.
Are your Idol days a help or hindrance on Broadway?
Sometimes it's a really good thing that you're on Idol: the amazing fan base, the platform, the opportunities. It can be viewed as a big negative at times. But what the Broadway community has always known about me is I'm true to the craft of theater and acting. I grew up as an actor. I went to a prestigious theater school long before Idol. I've toured with Rent.
Plus, you're almost playing a fictional version of yourself.
That certainly helped. But sure, at first, there was a little stigma because there's been some other stunt casting done via the Idol world. But I think it actually helps people when they come see me in this show. I don't know what's going to happen in the next show. I'll have to do something very different: Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams.
To hear the Constantine Maroulis interview, go to tampabay.com/blogs/80s.