Sometimes, a show comes along that will just not be denied. No matter how much you want to dislike it for a cavalcade of minor offenses—from desperately unfunny gags to a plotline that predictably creaks and groans—the damn show eventually wins you over.
The 2009 Broadway jukebox musical Rock of Ages is, let’s face it, a mess on several fronts. As created by book author Chris D’Arienzo and Ethan Popp, who arranged and orchestrated the mid- to late- ‘80s rock tunes made popular by established artists (ie. Bon Jove, Twisted Sister, Whitesnake, etc.), the play is a rock concert with a storyline stapled clumsily to it.
But the performers under the dazzling direction of Joanna May Hunkins are so balls-to-the-wall energetic, you eventually set aside your carping and go with the flow—from the blinding stage lights to the equally blinding hairdos.
It’s all based on a love story between wannabe rocker Drew and Sherrie, a gal from Kansas who just landed on Sunset Strip looking for stardom. Their love match is contrasted with the dastardly Hertz Klinemann (Kevin Kelly, deploying a hilarious, borderline impenetrable German accent) and his swishy (but not gay!) son Franz (a campy David Turner). The Germans want to turn The Strip into a strip mall for profit, gutting the Bourbon Room where all the rockers hang out.
It’s the krauts vs. the kidz and if you can’t guess who wins you need to have your brain bleached and teased until it resembles the big hair that traipses across the Alma Theatre stage.
Even though the plot is threadbare and the jokes are lame (some names of bands playing the club are called Concrete Balls and Steel Jizz. Um, really? The book author couldn’t even nail the “funny band name” gag?), the show works because it never lets up in its desire to be liked. It tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to make fun of itself at times. But the things that really work are the songs, performed by a talented band under the direction of Jordan Cooper and a talented cast of singers and dancers.
Shane Lonergan and Lauren Ashley Berry kick out the jams as Drew and Sherrie respectively, sharing one thankfully tender moment in a park with wine coolers. It is all narrated by Lonny, a relentlessly entertaining Douglas F. Bailey II, who pulls the storyline along like dragging a dead elephant seal across wet sand.
For a while, Sherrie is attracted to the visiting rock icon Stacee Jaxx, played with arrogant hauteur by Connor Bogart O’Brien—when the lead singer isn’t barfing his guts out from his latest excesses with various substances. And Neely Gevaart as Regina (It’s pronounced to rhyme with vagina…stop, you’re killing me) and Trinidad Snider as the sultry strip club madam Justice each add kickass singing and clever character portrayals to the mix. The cleverest twist in the show is when Lonny and club owner Dennis (Phillip Michael Carroll) discover each other in “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
To tell the truth, when it comes to rock/jukebox musicals “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” But if you want a show to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and give it to you “Any Way You Want It,” just “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Rock of Ages at Cain Park is a big, juicy slice of “Cherry Pie.”
Rock of Ages
Through June 25 at Cain Park, 14591 Superior Road, Cleveland Heights, 800-745-3000, cainpark.com