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Review: 'Rock of Ages'

April 14, 2011

“Rock of Ages” demonstrates an understanding of the music business as sophisticated as the Johnny Bravo “Brady Bunch” episode. It’s got an also-ran “American Idol”-er in the lead role, comedy that clunks, and a song list of retread ‘80s rock.

Plus, in its visit to Clowes Hall as part of the Broadway Across America series, its got sound problems that left the opening night audience straining to hear the dialogue (Higher volume doesn’t equal greater clarity, folks).

So why is it still so entertaining and endearing?

For one, there’s Constantine Maroulis, the “Idol” guy, bringing just the right balance of rock star sensibility and awe-shucks charm to belt songs and melt hearts. His experience with the part---he played the part in the original Broadway cast—shows but it hasn’t taken the spontaneity out of the performance. He’s surrounded here by a strong professional company clearly enjoying what they are doing and up to the vocal challenges.

The show also knows when to cut its songs off. Anyone coming to hear all of “We Built This City” might be disappointed. Sane people will rejoice that we don’t have to suffer through it all. .

The writers have managed to walk the fine line between nostalgia and parody, at the same time keeping the show’s heart in place. It never makes fun of the audience for liking song such as “Sister Christian” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” but never tries to say that they are the peers of Gershwin and Sondheim.

And it’s true to itself. While I can’t think of another hit musical whose thin plot complications hinge on our hero’s disappointment that the heroine had sex with a rock star in a bathroom stall, I also can’t think of any where the where-are-they-now ending so clearly connected with audiences in such surprising ways. And leaving audiences with the anonymous rockers rather than the show’s stars is a great touch.

Like “Mamma Mia,” “Rock of Ages” isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s the kind of show that audiences will happily return to, dragging along uninitiated friends for a good time. I suspect—and hope--it will be back. In the meantime, it runs here through April 17.

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