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Concert Reviews:
"Rock of Ages" is big, dumb -- and fun -- at the Fisher Theatre

Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

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DETROIT -- "Rock of Ages" is the best kind of silly.

The Tony Award-nominated musical, which runs through Nov. 21 at the Fisher Theatre, knows it. So do the actors. And the audience -- which makes for a shared inside joke that puts a great deal of fun into the big and dumb elements that power this improbable stage success.

"Rock of Ages" is built on the most unlikely of sources -- MTV-pumped hard rock anthems and ballads from the 80s. It put the likes of Twisted Sister and Bon Jovi and Journey alongside Sondheim, Lloyd Webber, Rogers and Hammerstein on the Great White Way, with winking glee and a self-referential attitude that breaks down the wall of high theater between the stage and the audience. It's serious about NOT being serious, poking gentle and loving fun at the form while still entertaining amidst, and because of, the over-the-top irreverence.

Its story lines are elemental -- a boy meets/loses/re-meets/re-loses/finally gets the girl, a proletariat drive to save the dive bars and strip clubs on Hollywood's Sunset Strip from commercial development and company of characters with dreams that are realized or altered along the way. And the producers and writer (Paw Paw native and Michigan State University grad Chris D'Arienzo) had no trouble finding the songs to support those plots, 29 enduring hits that even give Motor City Madman Ted Nugent some props via his band Damn Yankees' "High Enough."

High camp like this is not easy to pull off, however, which makes the real driving force of "Rock of Ages" it the cast and its ability to plow through the cheese with exuberant self-awareness. Besides his lung-busting vocals, confident "American Idol" finalist Constantine Maroulis, who scored a Tony nomination in the Broadway production, is convincing as Drew Bowie, the shy aspiring rocker from Detroit (big moment when he uses his hand to point to the city on "the mitten" of his left hand). Rebecca Faulkenberry brings heart, if not quite the right accent, to transplanted Kansan Sherrie Christian and her acting ambitions. Nick Cordero is an amiable goof as Dennis Dupree, the hippie owner of the venerable Bourbon Room, recording artist MiG Ayesa scores as rock star Stacee Jaxx and Travis Walker is a crowd pleaser who keeps the German developer Franz right on the edge of histrionic implosion.

But the show's true scene-stealer is Patrick Lewallen as Lonny, the Bourbon Room's nunchuck-twirling sound man and "Rock of Age's" narrator, who doesn't waste a gesture or a facial expression and also provides most of the interaction with the audience, even ordering a woman in the front row to meet him in his dressing room during the intermission.

"Rock of Age's" best musical moments are its ensemble pieces -- the opening couplet of David Lee Roth's "Just Like Paradise" and Poison's "Nothin' But a Good Time," the mayor and developers singing Starship's "We Built This City" while the Bourbon Room crowd juxtaposes Styx's "Too Much Time on My Hand," a weave of Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself For Loving You" with Asia's "Heat of the Moment," and an emotive full-company rendition of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." That much of the audience knows every word of these hits adds a "Rocky Horror..."-like energy to the theater that makes the production even more amusig. And accessible.

The show is dressed up with other retro touches -- more 80s songs played before the show and during intermission, a mirror ball, fog machine jokes, time-specific political references, faux lighters for use during REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" and a hysterical taped welcome from Whitesnake's David Coverdale that, among other things, takes a shot at Def Leppard, which would not allow its music, including the song "Rock of Ages," to be used in the musical.

And by the time things roll around to the evening ending romp through Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," even the most skeptical -- and traditional -- of theater-goers will be on their feet, singing along as the characters ride off into their own particular sunsets, everybody smiling at how much fun this two hours and 15 minutes of silliness really was.

"Rock of Ages" runs through Nov. 21 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Call 313-872-1000 or visit www.boradwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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