Ed Note: Rocks Off and our sister blog Art Attack are conducting a "reviewer exchange program" for the '80s musical Rock of Ages. One of our "rock and roll" people will review the show soon, but the visiting team bats first.
The Setup: '80s Sunset Strip rock venue Bourbon Room is slated for demolition from an evil German developer. Sweet horny rock mavens sit around and do nothing while sweet young ingénues who dream of being stars, fresh from Kansas or someplace like that - it really doesn't matter because you've seen this a gazillion times - fall in love, fall out of love, and, miraculously, after extraneous scenes of careers as strippers and pizza delivery guys, fall back in love and save the club.
Hey, wait a minute, no they don't! It's the gay guy - although he's not really gay, he's just German -and the kooky Berkeley protest girl who save the... oh, sweet Axl Rose, it doesn't matter at all, just shut up and squeal to the remembered hits dredged up from Casey Kasem's 8-track by Aerosmith, Pat Benatar, Starship, Twisted Sister, Poison, Bon Jovi, Journey, Quarterflash, Whitesnake, and other big-haired guys and gals.
The Execution: If ever a jukebox show that started off-Broadway was meant to glitter its way into the big time, this MTV glam rock knock-off is the one. It needs the glitz, the "jazz hands," the smoke and mirrors that only big-scale Broadway can provide.
This small-scale show, except in volume, doesn't have an original thought it its mulleted head; yet it expands and comes alive under the stage fog - oh, to have the patent on ROA's incessant stage fog! Worthier shows wither when moved into larger venues, Rock grows like David Lee Roth's pecs.
The show's energy, though awe-inspiring, is as fake as the cardboard characters, and you actually worry that farther along on the national tour, the singers, who wail so ardently, will lose their amp-deafening voices. Whether that's what has happened to former American Idol star Constantine Maroulis, I don't know, but he was replaced opening night by understudy J. Michael Zygo as rock-star wannabe Drew.
If I were Mr. Maroulis, I wouldn't let that happen again. Zygo makes a star turn if ever there were a star turn, and his fresh-scrubbed Mickey Rooney face, even sporting Ann Miller tresses, is terribly impressive and not soon forgotten.
Innocence personified, he never once made a false move or sang a bad note. He was an astonishingly sensitive leading man and belted as if his very life depended on it (his professional life on tour very well may).
The entire cast is exceptional, there's just nothing exceptional for them to do. When the actors give us more pizzazz than the show gives them, you know something's not right.
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The Verdict: '80s glam-rock screams into Houston. You wanna scream, too? Here's the show where you're encouraged to do it. Like clapping at Peter Pan, if you don't, the show dies.
Through June 12. Theatre Under the Stars. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-2650, www.tuts.com.