I was nervous about seeing Rock of Ages in Las Vegas. I had seen the film adaptation, of course. About the best thing I can say about the movie is that I didn’t hate it, but I have to resent any film that makes me say the best things about it were Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise.
The real trouble with Rock of Ages the movie is that I could never get a real grip on what it was trying to do or be. For a start, it seemed like a sanitized, Disney-style version of what Sunset Strip rock actually was. The world where fresh-faced Sherrie and Teen Beat Drew live in the film looks like it could have produced an episode of Glee. It does not look like a world that could have produced Guns N’ Roses or Motley Crue. Maybe it could have produced Poison, but even that seems like a stretch.
My larger problem with the film was that– with the exception of the Tom Cruise/ Stacee Jaxx story line, which I can only say good things about (and this makes me want to kill myself)– the whole movie seemed to be mocking the late ’80s glam metal scene more than celebrating it. Sure there was a lot of excess– that’s what the ’80s were all about– just enjoy the memories. I think that may be why Cruise’s performance worked for me; on some level he’s still that guy who slid into our consciousness in his socks and underwear to “Old Time Rock n’ Roll.” And we all know it. But there’s a fine line between joyful parody and laughing-and-pointing mockery, though, and I don’t think the film adaptation as a whole ever really figured out which side of that line it wanted to exist on.
My point is, I was skeptical about Rock of Ages in Las Vegas when I took my seat in the theatre at the Venetian. Bottom line on this show, though: it’s everything the movie should have been and wasn’t.
That sanitized Disney-like thing? Gone. You’ve got the mayor of Los Angeles rubbing money on his crotchal region. You’ve got seductive dancers. You’ve got a narrator whose every word is a double entendre. Seriously, this guy makes the word “the” seem a little dirty. You’ve got musicians and performers who know how to rock in a way that makes Arsenal work as a band in or out of the context of the performance.
The storyline is also a lot more streamlined, with the city’s development plans creating the central conflict rather than some weird version of Catherine Zeta-Jones as a local version Tipper Gore and the PMRC. As a plot device this is a more believable kind of conflict with City Hall and you get the extra added bonus of hippies finding their place in the world of the ’80s, which generates some fun gags. The Stacee Jaxx story is likewise streamlined and includes a llama as a love interest. So there’s that.
More importantly, this show reflects a genuine affection for the music and the characters and a sense of real fun. This is not laughing and pointing at the excesses of ’80s hair metal, it’s a celebration of those excesses. It’s a chance to relive the spirit of that time in a way that laughs at some of the silly elements in a way that never seems snarky or mean– for example Stacee’s spandex pants and unwillingness to wear a shirt (which makes me want to live forever).
Have you seen the show? Leave a comment telling us what you thought of it!
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