Big hair and bigger tunes can't save this flimsy Fort Worth musical
It's understood that jukebox musicals are often a little silly, but Rock of Ages takes that leeway and douses it with hairspray, pours on a couple of wine coolers, and then grinds it under its spiked, '80s heel. Which could even be a little fun, if Casa Mañana's production wasn't as bloated and confused as an aging rock star.
The hair-band mash-up musical was first a hit, appropriately, in Las Vegas and then had a healthy run on Broadway and on tour. It takes hit tunes from bands such as Styx, Poison, Foreigner, Journey, Twisted Sister, and more, and lays them on top of a paint-by-numbers story about a wannabe rocker (James Schneider), his fresh-faced love interest (Shannon Mullen, who played the role for three years on tour), and the L.A. club they're trying to save from demolition by evil German investors (because: '80s). If you've seen the Tom Cruise/Catherine Zeta-Jones movie, this version is a little different.
Again, there's potential for nothin' but a good time here, especially because the audience is encouraged to scream along to the songs and flag down beer from the pretty girls selling it in the aisles during the show.
Director Adam John Hunter has a long history with the show, from staging the national tour to serving as associate director on Broadway, and his experience can be glimpsed in how the show keeps rolling even if the actors or light and sound cues aren't always ready for the ride.
But a raucous sing-along might be all you get out of this production, thanks to a sound design that garbles nearly every one of book writer Chris D'Arienzo's lines. The excellent onstage band, thankfully, isn't impacted, and therefore you can concentrate on listening to them shred every time a joke falls flat or gets lost amid the noize.
Because when a line does pop through every now and then, it's usually a clunker. John Hays, relishing his sleaze while playing the fourth wall-breaking narrator, quips at one point that he "wanted to explore deep and thoughtful theater with complex characters and a challenging plot. Instead, I was hired to narrate a show with poop jokes and Whitesnake songs." Later on, a graphic child molestation joke made the audience audibly uncomfortable on opening night.
Since the show clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half-hours long, you're definitely going to need a couple more beers — if only to keep your voice in singing shape.
Casa Mañana's production of Rock of Ages runs through June 11.