Rock of Ages is the story of a bartender/struggling musician looking for his one chance at love and the spotlight — but gets thwarted by the seedier sides of both. Boasting 30 classic lighter-waving anthems by Poison, Journey, Ratt, Twisted Sister and much more, the ’80s arena-metal musical opens its curtains in New York tomorrow. After runs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the off-Broadway play has found a perfect lead in American Idol rocker Constantine Maroulis, whose theatre experience (he was in the touring company of Rent) and much-celebrated position as the original long-haired Idol rocker bring the overload of drama and bombast to the already dramatic and bombastic songs of the Aqua-Net age.
“When we learned that it was going to be coming to New York officially, of course we were very interested,” says Maroulis, who originally considered for the lead role of awkward bartender and aspiring musician Drew three years ago. “I was actually offered Grease in fact, and I ended up turning that down for the opportunity to create a new show, a new role, the first time I would ever do that in New York.”
Set in the dingy Sunset Strip bar the Bourbon Room, Rock of Ages is riddled with huge hair, lots of swearing, a familiar soundtrack (don’t think you’ll get out of hearing “Don’t Stop Believing” one more time this year) and a self-aware, Guitar Hero-style humor that Maroulis says you have to completely dedicate yourself to if you want to properly pull off. Last week’s previews had the feel of a rock concert itself, complete with rowdy audience members reacting to the mashed-up anthems that play as the soundtrack, sending up and honoring the excessive spirit of the time.
“I think it’s the kind of material that stays with you,” says Maroulis of the set list, which also includes Whitesnake, Quiet Riot, Pat Benetar, Styx, but — due to licensing — not the Def Leppard song the play is named after. “Those songs always stay with you, but it was nice to invite them back into my life. And sort of look at them from a different point of view and see which bands have survived and have been relevant.” Most interesting for him to revisit was childhood idols Bon Jovi, a band he claims appealed to his dramatic side even at a young age. “When you really examine what he’s really singing about [in ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’], it’s kind of funny. Egotistical yet you kind of feel bad for them at the same time. ‘Aw, poor little rock star rocking out for millions of people worldwide.’ But you forget that they are just a bunch of young kids, it’s all very new, demands that are put on them, the wear and tear of the road. And I’ve gotten to experience a bit of this.”
The play allows Maroulis to play up his rock charisma and theater chops, but he adds that he’s not much of a dancer. “They got me moving a bit on stage there,” says Maroulis. “I danced at Boston Conservatory as part of the acting training but…I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I think I tried to charm my way through most of those classes.”