On a recent lamentable weekend, I spent three days wallowing in mud while getting soaked to the bone and frozen by arctic winds just to hear a lot of unfamiliar music played far too loudly and with very little sense of humor or nuance at a certain local music festival.
I would have traded that entire experience for a single ticket to “Rock of Ages,” the glorious ‘80s-rock greatest hits jukebox musical finishing its all-too-brief three-day run at the Orpheum theater today.
My purpose isn’t to trash the festival atmosphere, but to extol the virtues of good, feel-good theater that appeals to the aging rocker in all of us. Beale Street Music Festival this year left me all depressed. Had the spirit of rock and roll so completely withered within me that I no longer had any enthusiasm for live music?
The answer, as I learned on Friday night, is hell no. My rocker soul is not dead.
My soul just wants a place to sit down.
In a dry seat.
In an air-conditioned building.
My soul wants awesome singing, great musical arrangements, and a good sound mix. My soul wants to laugh and pump its fists in the air and sing along to songs it knows by heart.
From the very first power chords in “Rock of Ages,” the audience is treated to an evening of beloved hits strung together with a bawdy comic plot full of nostalgia for the 1980s.
The playbill wisely doesn’t reveal the song listings. Half of the fun is playing “Name That Tune” when the guitars start crunching, or when an actor sings the first few words of a song. Writer Chris D’Arienzo knows how to get a laugh by using songs in unpredictable contexts.
This 2006 Broadway musical breaks the fourth wall whenever it’s convenient. A mullet-haired narrator (the hilarious Justin Colombo) plays court jester and master of ceremonies in a seedy rock club on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. Video screens in the background serve up a constant barrage of sight gags.
As you might imagine, the characters and the band (a five-piece ensemble that never leaves the stage) all have long hair, studded belts, and various adornments which, it should be noted, were delightfully reflected in the audience.
Many young people (some of whom clearly weren’t even born in the 1980s) were decked out in now-vintage attire. Audience participation is tolerated. By the second act, people were acting like they were at a rock concert: hooting, talking back to the stage, singing loudly. The actors took it all in stride.
The plot, wrapped in ‘80s references, involves a love story between a “small town girl, living in a lonely world and a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit.”
And if you immediately recognize that as the lyric of a song, then this musical will send you into fits of ecstasy.
One warning: It’s a loud show. They don’t skimp on volume and that goes doubly for the hair styles.
“Rock of Ages” may not be to everyone’s liking due to the language, the loudness and the highly sexualized choreography (there are well-used stripper poles on each side of the stage). But if none of that remotely bothers you, then I urge you, in the voice of Quiet Riot’s Kevin DuBrow, to come on feel the noise, girls rock your boys and get wild, wild, wild at the Orpheum.
“Rock of Ages” continues 1:30 and 7 p.m. today at the Orpheum theater, 203 South Main. Tickets are $25-$80. Call 901-525-3000.