Theatre review: Rock of Ages left me between a rock and a hard place

Rock of Ages may not know what it wants to be all the time but one thing is for certain: since it can’t pass itself off as a piece of theatre it should at least be all about the music. Unfortunately the current touring production rarely delivered on either front.

Another in a string of jukebox musicals looking to tap into the nostalgia of a certain demographic (those with the disposable incomes big enough to pay the top dollar prices demanded of these shows), Rock of Ages uses some two dozen rock classics from the 80s to help tell its whisper thin and predictable story.

Thankfully Rock of Ages never takes itself too seriously and along with continually poking fun at its subject matter with seemingly endless 80s stereotypes and references, is the self-acknowledgement from the show’s narrator (a genuinely funny everyman Justin Colombo) that the show is little more than a piece of musical theatre.  But for that bit of satire to work we need a solid base to support it, and when that base consists of toilet humour, raunchy dance numbers and product placements that would put any Hollywood blockbuster to shame, it is immediately apparent that its base is not solid as a city built on rock and roll.

Members of the national touring cast of Rock of Ages.
Members of the national touring cast of Rock of Ages on stage at The Centre in Vancouver until May 13, 2012.

If it all seems a bit unfocused, it is.  Never quite sure what it wants to be, the sum of its parts adds up to very little and it ultimately falls upon the music to carry us through its 2+ hours.  But to be able to do that you need a cast that is up to the challenge of recreating the 80s glam rock sound and on stage last night there were few with the necessary pipes to carry it off.

Whether you’re a fan of this particular genre of music or not, most of the songs are almost instantly recognizable and with that recognition come certain expectations.  While not suggesting we need a cast of Bret Michaels, Axl Rose or Pat Benator impersonators, it does require a voice that traditional musical theatre actors find tough to emulate.  There is a reason that the role of Drew has become synonymous with American Idol rocker Constantine Maroulis and also the reason Dominque Scott in this touring production is the strongest of the leads, having come from New York rock band Domin8trx.

A birthday celebration of sorts, our party last night included a friend who has seen the show twice before – once on Broadway and again during its run in Toronto – and raved about it.  A huge fan of the music and the show, she professed a huge disappointment in this touring production’s sound.  But in the end she, like most of the audience last night, leapt to their feet in appreciation leaving me feel caught between my own rock and a hard place.

3 out of 5 Stars Rock of Ages

Book by Chris D’Arienzo.  Directed by Kristin Hanggi.  A Broadway Across Canada presentation.  On stage at The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts until May 13, 2012.  Visit http://www.broadwayacrosscanada.ca for tickets and information.

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