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Stage vs. screen: Which ‘Rock of Ages’ is better?

OH SHERRIE: The movie’s ingenue (Julianne Hough pictured) has more heart than stage character played Chicago by ShannMullen.

OH, SHERRIE: The movie’s ingenue (Julianne Hough, pictured) has more heart than the stage character played in Chicago by Shannon Mullen.

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‘ROCK OF AGES’

When: Through Aug. 5

Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut at Water Tower Place

Tickets: $70-$80

Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayIn
Chicago.com

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Updated: July 22, 2012 7:44PM



The first thing you must be willing to accept about “Rock of Ages,” the movie, is that it is a Broadway musical with all the associated conventions. Yes, it is set in a Los Angeles rock club. And yes, its score is composed of glam metal hits of the 1980s. But it is not nor has it ever been a rock concert in any way, shape or form. So if you can’t roll with the Broadway mentality, you had better save your money for Lollapalooza tickets instead.

Of course “Rock of Ages” also is just the latest example of the balance of trade in show business. Countless movies have been used as the source material for stage musicals (this year’s Tony Award-winning “Once” is among the finest of them). Similarly, any number of stage musicals (“Chicago,” “Evita,” “Nine,” “Grease” and the list goes on and on), have been made into movies.

At the moment, Chicago audiences have the rare opportunity to compare and contrast the stage version of “Rock of Ages” (running through Aug. 5 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place) with the widely released film version of the jukebox musical. Despite being a fervent supporter of live theater (though never a fan of “Rock of Ages”), I confess I found the big-screen version the better of the two, even if opening weekend box-office figures (it placed third, well behind “Madagascar 3” and “Prometheus”) were disappointing at $14,437,269.

Director Adam Shankman’s zesty mix of theatrical and cinematic staging, plus a number of goofy star turns, gives the whole thing a delicious, pumped-up edge with far more “personality” than the stage versions I’ve seen. More important, it is the movie’s far better storytelling (yes, it might be rock-bottom basic, but it is better) makes all the difference.

Three writers are credited with the screenplay, including the original stage musical book writer, Chris D’Arienzo, plus Justin Theroux (with Allan Loeb). Either D’Arienzo was urged to throw away the Musicals Writing for Dummies manual he had a character brandish in the show, or his collaborators gave him a crash course in improved plot and character development.

Before going any further, a spoiler alert must be issued. In suggesting some of the differences between stage and screen versions, several of the finer points of the story must be revealed.

Love: In the film, the central youthful romance between Drew (the sweet, doe-eyed Diego Boneta), a shy and quite talented young rocker who works as a busboy at the Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip, and Sherrie (the curvaceous, luminous-skinned Julianne Hough), a wannabe actress-singer just off the bus from Oklahoma, is more fully developed. Their first “date” takes place in a vintage record store (where everyone joins in “Juke Box Hero” and “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll), and shortly afterward they head to the iconic hillside of the “Hollywood” sign. Throughout the film, location shots and believable crowd scenes help open up the story and free it from the stage production’s total cartoonishness, though no one would mistake any of this for realism.

Sherrie does not have sex with the wholly debauched rock star Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), though Drew believes she has, and this gives the story, and Sherrie, more heart. Instead, it is a Rolling Stone magazine reporter (who looks a bit like Sherrie’s hard-edged, specs-wearing twin) who eagerly gets it on with Jaxx atop a pool table.

Villainy: Missing is the stage musical’s idiotic subplot involving a neo-Nazilike German businessman and his weirdo son who arrive to “clean up” the Strip as they ply the mayor with bribes. Instead, we get a rabid, Anita Bryant-like “voice of morality” in the character of the Los Angeles mayor’s wife, Patricia Whitmore (played with fiery musical theater panache by Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose pink suit is perfection). As we discover, she holds a big grudge against rock ’n’ roller Jaxx — the guy who, years earlier, deflowered her and then unceremoniously dumped her. (In an added little plot kink, Whitmore’s husband, the mayor, is busy cheating on her with his assistant, a practiced dominatrix.)

Star power: While Cruise is far from the most natural rock ’n’ roll star, he does give us an aptly “Broadwayized” version of being wasted and substance-addled. His scene with the Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) is expertly done, and the presence of his pet monkey (a film addition) is priceless.

Sidemen: Also new to the film, and adding just the right bite, is the character of Paul Gill (a spot-on turn by Paul Giamatti), Jaxx’s jaded, frequently desperate, ever-hustling manager who senses that rock is about to be eclipsed by rap.

Alec Baldwin is also quite hilarious as Dennis Dupree, an aging hippie and burnt-out club owner (who does not die and return as an angel, as he does in the show). And the Pythonesque Russell Brand is a genuine hoot as the lanky Brit who serves as Dennis’ assistant and the lad who taps into his inner homosexual.

Vocals: The actors in the film do the covers, and it is a very different thing to go into a Hollywood sound studio where everything can be enhanced and tweaked, rather than taking the true test — singing live eight times a week. For that, I will always applaud the theater cast.



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