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Who: "Rock Of Ages" on Broadway
Where: Helen Hayes Theatre, NY, NY
When: 06.21.11
Writer: EC

My first trip to the Big Apple left a vibrant view of the 80s in my rearview. Spandex, bandanas and big hair set the scene at the Helen Hayes Theatre on West 44th with the fifth year of "Rock Of Ages". The electrifying Broadway play has been on tour both domestically and exported through Canada, London and even Australia. Generations of rock fans have adored the script and musical numbers which have led to the writers giving a serious nod to a big screen release in 2012. Maximum Metal and your favorite hair metal journalist was on the scene for this 80s rock extravaganza.

This was my first foray into the world of Broadway. Gone were the suits and ties and odd decor...replaced with bras, booze and loud music that only a true rat-tailed, trailer park boy would know and love. The Helen Hayes Theatre was completely packed with hard rock memorabilia and rows of hair metal fans that go back three generations. It was completely awe inspiring for me to walk in and see framed photography from Mark Weiss adorning the legendary walls. I saw vintage photos of Dokken on the "Breaking The Chains" tour, Motley Crue off the plane (but not off the wagon) and Skid Row's prime time alley shot. In the fold were classic photos of Ozzy (in the tub and in the bubbly), GNR and Van Halen. Beyond the vintage photography the theatre was slathered in good times. How about a huge marquee announcing Shark Island live at The Whiskey. How about huge neon professing the Roxx? I saw a promo for Dokken/Twisted Sister at the Civic Arena and Y&T in Oakland. "Stay Hungry" was proudly presented in frame along with big band photos of Lita Ford and Europe. Oddly Depeche Mode made an appearance but I'm convinced someone was off the clock on that stapler. Mixed into the hard rock reality of life in the 80s was a huge banner professing that fictitious band Arsenal had a new record out. Who the Hell is Arsenal? "Rock Of Ages" would answer that soon enough.

The show started with a bang complete with a spoken word intro from David Coverdale via the PA system. From there our gritty and downright filthy narrator Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis) sets the story for our 1987 trip through the Sunset Strip. Our location was a dive called The Bourbon (how's that for irony), home of many a few spandex wonders and empty aquanet cans. The Bourbon is the home of aspiring rocker Drew (Dan Domenech) who professes his love for hard rock through several loud verses of Quiet Riot's "Cum On Feel The Noize" with Domenech absolutely nailing Kevin Dubrow (wearing denim with a Dokken backpatch and Van Halen shirt). We get a few inside jokes on Kip Winger, Alan Parsons Project and "Pyromania" (apparently Def Leppard isn't a fan). Our love interest is Sherrie (beautiful Rebecca Faulkenberry) introduced as an aspiring actress from Kansas set to Night Ranger's "Sister Christian". This is fitting considering that the ACTUAL musicians on stage involve Joel Hoekstra of Night Ranger. The other axeman is Tommy Kessler (Tommy Shaw, Robin McAuley). Among the other opening songs is Poison number "Nothin' But A Good Time", Twisted Sister's "We Ain't Gonna Take It", Saigon Kick's "Love Of A Lifetime" (it was really Firehouse...making sure you are following the hair) and Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead Or Alive". The first act finale is a HUGE cast number to Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again". We also get more inside jokes on Judas Priest (suggesting "Eat Me Alive"), Sebastian Bach (if this is 1987 Bon Jovi technically didn't find Skid Row until 1988) and a few non-metal tunes that still rocked 80s FM.

The whole story is built around Sherrie's struggles in Hollywood and trying to overcome adversity and ridicule while Drew is simply a nerd with a great pen and powerful voice (I caught him writing the lyrics for Warrant's "Heaven" before dishing it out to Sherrie in practice). Arsenal is going to play one more show before David Lee Roth...I mean Stacey Jaxx departs the band for a solo career. The band end up playing their home bar at The Bourbon in a mockery of the music business skit. The underlying story is two German real estate developers want to shut down The Bourbon and scheme with the Mayor to bring an end to the rock and roll decadence of the strip. This is obviously symbolic of the grunge movement and big labels bringing down the axe on hard rock players and the Sunset Strip owners in the early 90s. We get protests from the strip set to Twisted Sister, Europe's "The Final Countdown" (with soaring twin guitar solo from Kessler/Hoekstra) and Journey's "Anyway You Want It". Emotion and drama take center stage when Sherrie is forced to entertain at a strip joint for money (nailing Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself For Loving You" in a scorching lap dance). Later we get Damn Yankees' "High Enough", Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", a snip of Styx on "Renegade", "More Than words" from Extreme, "Oh, Sherrie" from Steve Perry and lots of "We Built This City" from Starship. The whole thing ends with a huge number on Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'". There were a number of other 80s anthems and staples but honestly I just lost track between the glam deck and the strippers.

The storyline was really focused on overcoming the odds and about the proverbial "crossroads" or "journey". Everyone had their vices and each had to overcome and fight the good fight. From something as minor as the real estate developers to our narrator they each had their own story to share and their own dreams and aspirations to fulfill. I enjoyed the banter between all of the characters and was amazed at the vocal prowess of Domenech. He was a star among stars and had serious pipes for stadium rock and big hair numbers. The record label story was unfortunately non-fiction...this sort of shoddy business practice could be seen in Columbia's fiasco of dumping of Warrant in the 90s to the photo nonsense of Tiger Beat. It was all played out on stage and the writers were convincing in their portrayal of 80s execs and the "eat the rich" mentality of upstarts.

The show did close with a PA fed "Rock Of Ages" from Def Leppard and intermission and pre-play festivities were enhanced by GNR's "Welcome To The Jungle"/"Sweet Child 'O Mine", Warrant's "Cherry Pie" and a host of other Monster Rock participants.


--EC 6.21.2011




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