Fire up the cigarette lighters! The utterly rad "Rock of Ages" invites you to come and feel the noise.
If you made the mistake of seeing the massively lame movie version starring Tom Cruise, fear not. This Tony-nominated musical version of "Rock of Ages" knows not to take itself, the relics of the Reagan era or anything else too seriously. In the parlance of 1987, it's a totally awesome celebration of the impulse to party as hard as you possibly can without ever messing up your sweet AquaNet hairdo.
Book writer Chris D'Arienzo vigorously mocks everything from acid wash to jazz hands in a full-on irony smackdown that will tickle retro aficionados and Broadway babies alike. "Rock of Ages" also knows that there's nothing as sweet as nostalgia, especially for children of the '80s, who are just now realizing that baby boomers aren't the only ones with a fondness for flashbacks. If you have a soft spot in your kitsch-loving heart for cheesy big-hair bands, this musical will rock you like a hurricane with 28 "face-melting" hits from Journey, Pat Benatar, Poison, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, Starship and many more.
Welcome back to the age of gnarly, people. If you know your Bon Jovi from your Bartles and Jaymes, this is the jukebox musical of your dreams.
Long-locked Drew (Dominique Scott) is a wannabe guitar hero mopping the floor at the Bourbon Room, a Sunset Strip watering hole, while he struggles to write a song (it's hard to find words that rhyme with boobies) that will make him a star. In walks Farrah-haired Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) a small-town girl living in a lonely world (get it?). They bond over a love of cherry Slurpees and denim vests. Soon, they are sharing sunsets and wine coolers from atop the Hollywood sign.
Their romance hits the rocks when metal-head god Stacee Jaxx (Universo Pereira) sweeps Sherrie off her feet and into the men's restroom to the tune of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is." She ends up broke and alone, stripping for a living while singing her heart out to "Harden My Heart." Grody, no?
There also is a wacky subplot about gentrification, fighting the power and a Berkeley lesbian activist who pronounces the name Regina (Megan McHugh) so that it sounds like a female body part. But all of that is just an excuse for the cast to bust out with "We Built This City" and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."
All of it hangs together because these rock anthems are absolutely air-guitar worthy. The '80s songbook tribute also is framed by one of the most endearing narrators ever (if you find the Jack Black archetype appealing). Meet Lonny (the adorably dorky Justin Colombo), a flatulent, mullet-sporting riff on a Thornton Wilder stage manager. He makes bawdy asides and cracks musical theater in-jokes until he, too, is carried away on the wings of a power ballad. The delivery of REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" is a flat-out delight.
Director Kristin Hanggi (whose work has been re-created here by Adam John Hunter) has a real knack for the art of the deadpan. "Rock of Ages" knows how to wink and nod at the audience while simultaneously daring it to relive some of the ecstasy of its youth. She nails the smart-alecky but sweet tone so perfectly that the combination of sarcasm and innocence is hard to resist.
Few things can top the spectacularly cheesy first act finale, a mashup of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" and jazz hands. The giddy juxtaposition of '80s iconography and Broadway tropes is a guaranteed giggle for the MTV generation.
Some caveats to my otherwise rave review:
The cavernous Center for the Performing Arts is not the best place to see "Rock," which is far more electric in a smaller venue. This touring cast is also not quite up to the show's original stars (Constantine Maroulis killed as Drew), but the ensemble still has moxie. The actors sing the songs like they mean them (even "Sister Christian!"), and they bring a double shot of sincerity to D'Arienzo's wonderfully sarcastic dialogue and Kelly Devine's fierce choreography (re-created by Marcos Santana). The cast also handled some rambunctious audience members with real aplomb at Tuesday's opening night.
Bottom line: If you have a secret longing for the days of legwarmers and John Hughes, it's hard to imagine a better guilty pleasure. "Rock of Ages" remains a bitchin' remembrance of things past.
Presented by Broadway
Through: Feb. 3
Where: San Jose Center
for the Performing Arts,
255 Almaden Blvd.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)
Tickets: $20-$82, 408-792-4111, http://broadwaysanjose.com