Any Broadway musical that mines gravitas from the randy riffs of Twisted Sister deserves great success.
And the '80s-deluded Rock of Ages, a Broadway smash that brought its road show to Ruth Eckerd Hall this week, is certainly successful, a dizzied jukebox musical that uses the anthems of Quiet Riot, REO Speedwagon and more to tell the tale of Sunset Strip dreams circa the Reagan administration.
With former American Idol star Constantine Maroulis in the lead role of a wannabe rocker in love with a wannabe actress, Rock of Ages opened here on Tuesday (and runs until Sunday). Stuck in the '80s dreamers Sean Daly and Steve Spears were there. One of them cried; the other wasn't as charmed, but admittedly went searching for his old Journey records.
Daly: I think it's only fair to reveal early and often that you, Steve Spears, bawled your eyes our for the last 10 minutes of the silly, energetic but at times tedious Rock of Ages, during which robust versions of Steve Perry's Oh Sherrie and Journey's Don't Stop Believin' were rocket-launched at the sold-out crowd.
Spears: You're darn right I wept, Mr. Roboto. Rock of Ages is a loose, farcical spoof of the '80s. But when you're not looking, the story of wayward rock-club denizens searching for happiness (and wine coolers) is also a glorious reflection of that decade's hopes for the future.
Daly: What with all the sex jokes, Arby's jokes, gay jokes and German jokes in Chris D'Arienzo's book, crying at the end of Rock of Ages is a little like crying at the end of The Naked Gun movies. Is it fiendishly clever in using hair-metal anthems to spin a narrative? Absolutely. I never knew Warrant's Heaven qualified as poetry! But Rock of Ages is so intent on tearing down the fourth wall, it's hard to maintain emotional resonance.
Spears: You're missing the point, dude. It's a sensory-overloaded retro party. It's louder than a real rock show thanks to the metal band (Arsenal rules!) that never leaves the stage. It's also bawdy and totally inappropriate for anyone under 15 — or, for that matter, the inconsiderate dopes in the crowd who started a fight in the middle of Act II.
Daly: That melee was an illustration of how Rock of Ages is a different sort of entertainment. In other words: It ain't La Boheme. Speaking of which … how about those thigh-highed backup dancers! Their commitment to stretching and Frederick's of Hollywood is admirable.
Spears: While you were ogling them, I marveled at Maroulis, who has true star power, not to mention a hair-metal howl. Patrick Lewallen is a scene-stealing riot as mugging emcee Lonny. And Nick Cordero, as bar owner Dennis, makes the most of a secondary character whose denouement is both touching and funny.
Daly: Give kudos to Rebecca Faulkenberry, whose lost innocent Sherrie has a Reese Witherspoon charm that transforms into the car-hood-writhing charm of a video vixen. And I have to say, those full-cast group sings, especially a brilliantly staged treatment of Every Rose Has Its Thorn, are spellbinding.
Spears: That's the spirit, buddy! The songs are tremendous: Foreigner's Waiting for a Girl Like You as the backing tune for a clunky first date, Pat Benatar's Hit Me With Your Best Shot as a campy confrontation between a German developer and his son. Truth be told, I kind of cried at that one, too.
Daly: I can't fight this feeling anymore: You're a moron.