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Concert Reviews:
"Rock of Ages" hits most of the right notes at the Fox

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, January 19, 2019

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Like the 80s rock hits it celebrates, "Rock of Ages" has legs.

The Tony Award-nominated musical's Tenth Anniversary Tour -- whose three-show run finishes Saturday, Jan. 19, at Detroit's Fox Theatre -- is as fresh and clever as it was when it rolled into Broadway during 2009. Through this current cast is not quite as campy as its predecessors, the show is still exuberant, engaging and, most importantly, self-aware. "Rock of Ages" is supposed to be fun -- of the big and dumb variety -- and the fact that everyone from audience to actors knows that is key to its success.

The story, by Michigan native Chris D'Arienzo about Hollywood's Sunset Strip and the "legendary" Bourbon Room club threatened by real estate developers, remains the same, and the familiarity breeds a great deal of shared fondness that makes it largely bulletproof against any shortcomings. It's still best when the cast -- primarily fog machine-toting narrator Lonny Barnett (a nimble John-Michael Breen at the Fox) -- regularly breaks the fourth wall to address the audiences, while D'Arienzo's script balances the conventional with off-beat asides, even poking fun at the writer himself.

It also plays particularly well in Michigan since aspiring singer Drew Boley (Anthony Nuccio) hails from Detroit and even uses his hand as a mitten locator in a gesture familiar to local audiences.

Nuccio is, in fact, this company's hands-down star, conveying just enough innocence and naiveté and singing with a big, stadium-ready voice; He holds the final note of Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" practically long enough for audience members to make a beverage run and still be back before he's finished. Sam Harvey plays rock god Stacey Jaxx with bare-chested glee, and on opening night, at least, it was a nice touch to have New Baltimore native Kyle Jurassic step into his understudy role as Franz Klinemann -- the repressed son of the German developer who wants to sanitize the Strip.

But it's the music, 29 enduring hits, that sells the show, a collection of ensemble production pieces and inventive mash-ups -- Dave Lee Roth's "Just Like Paradise" and Poison's "Nothin' But a Good Time" at the beginning, Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself For Loving You" and Asia's "Heat of the Moment" during a showdown between Jaxx and Drew's love interest Sherrie Christian (Katie LaMark), and the full-cast rendering of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." The songs are so well-known they bring a collective sigh, or groan, from the audience when the first notes are played, adding a "Rocky Horror..."-like singalong energy to the proceedings.

And by the time "Rock of Ages" rolls into its finale romp through Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," everyone is on their feet like the encore of a good rock concert. It's still as silly, and sweet, as it ever was -- although some of the younger audience members may learn some new terminology over the course of the show. And it shows every sign of turning into the kind of seminal musical that can be enjoyed for ages to come.

"Rock of Ages plays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets start at $35. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

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