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Sleazy & queasy ‘Rock of Ages’ requires heavy mettle

‘ROCK OF AGES’

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

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 9, 2012 6:08AM



The movie version of “Rock of Ages” — the jukebox musical featuring a lineup of glam metal rock music hits of the 1980s — is set to open in Chicago on June 15 with a cast that includes Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough (two-time champion on “Dancing With the Stars”), and Diego Boneta (the Mexican singer-actor familiar from the TV series “90210”).

Meanwhile, a slightly scaled-down version of the Broadway edition of the show on which the movie is based has arrived on the stage of the intimate Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place with full-blown amplification and full-blown vulgarity intact. The only thing that can be said in the show’s favor is that it seems to have a good deal more of a sense of humor about itself now. But while the audience at Wednesday night’s opening could not have been happier — as drinks were brought to their seats throughout, and as the garter-belted actresses periodically danced up the aisles — I could not have been more miserable.

I confess: I loathed the show when it first arrived on tour at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre in the fall of 2010, and I quickly felt the wrath of outraged fans who remained unrepentant cheerleaders for the 1980s (the era of Reagan and AIDS — neither of which are referred to here — along with pole-dancing, porn, drugs and music, some of it stirring, by the likes of Styx, Whitesnake, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon and more).

But I, too, am unrepentant. The show’s mock-biblical title could easily be replaced by something like “Moron-ophilia Meets Vulgar-itis.” And please, spare me any mention of writer Chris D’Arienzo’s attempt at post-modern hiccups as he gives us a cartoonish story spun by a narrator, Lonny (Justin Colombo), who is seen crafting the show we are watching by way of a book titled “Musical Writing for Dummies.” Well, he got that right at least.

In a sense, the current version returns the show to its roots. “Rock of Ages” was first staged in a Los Angeles club in 2005, before eventually moving to Off-Broadway and then getting all puffed up for its 2009 Broadway debut. But while it is being played in a more intimate space, it still has the feel of a loud, naughty, suburban high school rave party, with plenty of talented, high-energy performers giving it their all. But you still have to ask: Why?

The story is about two somewhat naive young twentysomething dreamers — Detroit-bred rocker Drew (Dominique Scott), and Kansas-bred aspiring actress Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) — who meet at the scuzzy Bourbon Room rock club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Drew is shy, and Sherrie is misguided, so when the twisted, narcissistic rock star Stacee Jaxx (Matt Nolan) puts the moves on her, she is easily seduced (and quickly abandoned).

Believing she has lost Drew forever, Sherrie indulges in some good old-fashioned self-degradation by working as a stripper. But true love eventually triumphs for them, as well as for most of the rest of the losers and outcasts in this story in which there is a ridiculous subplot about a sinister plan for urban renewal that is led by a fascist German (who bribes a corrupt mayor), and who also has a goofy son. Don’t ask.

The onstage band of five, led by Darren Ledbetter, is terrific. All the performers sing and dance tirelessly, with the best voice belonging to Amma Osei, the black madam who runs the strip club. Nevertheless, the mix of stupidity, crotch-focused sleaze and faux sweetness in this show still leaves me wanting to head for the exit.



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