February 7, 2013 in Features

Broadway’s ‘Rock of Ages’ takes musical journey back to ‘80s

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kate Egan photo

Pictured at top: Drew and company perform “I Wanna Rock” in Best of Broadway’s “Rock of Ages.” Above: Justin Colombo stars as Lonny.
(Full-size photo)

For those about to rock, “Rock of Ages” salutes you.

The hit Broadway musical comes to Spokane’s INB Performing Arts Center today for a four-day run as part of the Best of Broadway series.

The plot of “Rock of Ages” is right out of one of those Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” musicals of the 1930s.

This time, however, it’s dressed up with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, 1980s style.

Our Michigan-born hero, Drew, wants to be rock star. He lands a job busing tables at The Bourbon Room, a legendary club on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. There he meets Sherrie, an aspiring actress from a small town in Kansas.

(And if you think this set up sounds familiar, you’re correct. It’s right out of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”)

When German developers seek to tear down the club in order to redevelop the Strip, club managers hope a concert by Stacee Jaxx and Arsenal will save the day. Instead, it complicates the budding relationship between Sherrie and Drew.

Justin Colombo, who plays the narrator Lonny, said in a telephone interview last week that “Rock of Ages” does a good job with a story told “1,001” times, and that it’s not your mother’s jukebox musical.

“I like the fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s very cheesy and fun. So rather than being a fresh twist, it’s a cheesy twist,” Colombo said

What sets “Rock of Ages” apart from other jukebox musicals, Colombo said, is that it doesn’t focus on a single artist, like “Mamma Mia!” or “Jersey Boys.”

“We span the whole decade. I think that itself is an amazing quality of the show. These songs are the songs of a generation. They’re songs people dated to, kissed to, danced to, they cried to, so audiences come in and have their own emotional response.”

“Rock of Ages” features music by arena rockers Journey, Pat Benatar, David Lee Roth, REO Speedwagon, Starship, Styx, Foreigner and Bon Jovi, and metal bands Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Poison, Warrant and Whitesnake. (Just not Def Leppard, who did not give the play’s creators rights to any of their songs, including “Rock of Ages.”)

For anyone concerned about the show’s subject matter, or unsure if they’ll like it, Colombo has a piece of advice.

“If you can make it through the opening number, you’ll be absolutely fine,” he said.

He says he tells people that it’s a show appropriate for people ages 14 and older.

“If you’re comfortable watching a PG-13 movie with your kids, then you should be fine,” he said. “The show takes place in L.A. and it’s all about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and we don’t dumb that down. There are strippers. The girls are in garters and bras and stuff like that.

“It’s a fun, fun show.”

Colombo has been with the show for 16 months. As Lonny, he sings in 23 of the show’s 27 songs. And even though he’s still in his 20s, he already knew many of these songs going in. But when he got the job, he started digging deep into the ’80s hair band repertoire, listening to groups such as White Lion and Winger.

“I remember growing up and listening to ‘Sister Christian’ for the first time and going, ‘Oh, this song rocks so hard,’ ” he said. “(Night Ranger) has become my favorite band of all time.”


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