The newest jukebox musical on Broadway begins with an announcement from Whitesnake's David Coverdale: "No flash photography unless you're really, really hot and willing to show us your boobs." Rock of Ages, a show featuring Eighties hits from Poison, Styx and Journey, made the leap to the Great White Way last night, April 7th, after a three-month off-Broadway stint (Rock Daily first reported on Rock of Ages in October 2008). The musical, which features onetime American Idol hopeful Constantine Maroulis and an onstage metal band led by Night Ranger's Joel Hoekstra, uses familiar tunes including "More Than Words" and "Heat of the Moment" to tell the story of a wanna-be rocker who works in a legendary L.A. dive and chases the girl of his dreams while German developers threaten to demolish the Sunset Strip. (Get a close-up look at the show in our Rock of Ages photo gallery.)
Broadway has been hit hard by the recession, but Rock of Ages producer Janet Billig Rich says the production is thriving thanks to low ticket prices and the music's accessibility. The 30-plus crowd has "so many emotional memories attached to these songs," and "from Behind the Music to Rock Band, these songs are in teenagers' canon too," she says (the full set list is available on the Rock of Ages Website). "We're the musical dudes like." Strippers pack the aisles, attendees wave LED lighters and swill beer in their seats, and unlike Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys, which feature songs by one act (Abba and the Four Seasons, respectively) Rock of Ages is a "mixtape musical" that draws from 20-plus artists, says its writer, Chris D'Arienzo.
Rock of Ages was born when one of Rich's producing partners suggested a show that ends with everyone singing "Don't Stop Believing." D'Arienzo — who arrived for his pitch meeting in a T-shirt from Journey's 1981 Escape tour — was once in a band with Tenacious D's Kyle Gass knew exactly where to take the plot. "In terms of the sweeping harmonies and themes of boy meets girl, these songs are the closest thing to a showtune rock has to offer," he says. The artists — with the exception of Def Leppard, whose song gives the musical its name — have given the show permissions and praise. Producers courted the artists and rights owners at a Los Angeles showcase by putting on an early, truncated version of the show. "C.C. DeVille was sitting next to Don Dokken and leaned over and said, 'They got us, man,' so I guess I did it pretty accurately basing it on the clichés, myths and legends," D'Arienzo says. The show's Stacee Jaxx — the lead singer of Arsenal — is a send-up of Nikki Sixx, and its Bourbon Room bar is a nod to the Whiskey and the former Gazzarri's.
Maroulis originated the role of Drew in the off-Broadway production, and Rich admits, "I think a few of us went in with one eyebrow raised and he just knocked our socks off." Maroulis adds, "I guess I came off on American Idol as an over-the-top wannabe rock guy." But like Drew, he logged time in a seedy bar while pining away for a career as a singer. "I worked at a place in the East Village called Apocalypse Lounge. It was shithole, but it was so much fun. All those '80s hipsters would come in and I was the dork barback. There were some debaucherous moments that went down at the Apocalypse, so I could relate to rock stars screwing girls in bathrooms."
Now that the cast has survived opening night — Dee Snider and Night Ranger were in the house — Rock of Ages' next stop is the big screen: D'Arienzo is already writing the screenplay for a New Line film. "In the way the stage version is a loving homage to Broadway, this is going to be a loving homage to classic MGM musicals," D'Arienzo says. "But using rock music."