Rock of Ages wears its cheese on its sleeve. In the opening comments before the Jan. 12 evening show at the Morrison Center, a booming voice told audience members not to be "douchebags" and turn off their cellphones, and then signed off with "enjoy having your faces melted."
But the jam-packed Morrison Center crowd--comprised of grandmas shepherding pre-teens in sequined pants and dudes in leather jackets escorting chicks with hair higher than their heels--seemed to soak in the cheese with ease.
A thick cloud of fog rolled off the stage, bathed in a purple haze and lit by flickering red neon signs made to look like Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in the late '80s.
Most of the musical's characters had gathered at the dive-y Bourbon Room, owned by fringe-jacket sporting Dennis Dupree (Matt Ban). Soon, narrator Lonny, played by the overtly Jack Black-esque Justin Colombo, told the crowd, "When you're putting on a music-al you have to introduce a freaking love story ... and quick."
And that they did. In a flash, the audience was transported "3,337 Waffle Houses away" to Kansas, where Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) was packing her bags. Against the will of her parents, Sherrie has decided to become an actress in Hollywood, where she is promptly mugged and meets long-haired aspiring rocker Drew (Danny McHugh).
Sadly, despite their shared naivety and love of cherry Slurpees, the two characters didn't resonate--musically or romantically. Perhaps that was because McHugh is the understudy for leading man Dominique Scott. Or maybe it was because Mullen's voice wasn't commanding enough to carry the range of glam rock covers the show demands.
The plot for Rock of Ages continued to develop using lyrics from familiar '80s tunes like "Anyway You Want It," "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Backed by "We Built this City," German father-son businessmen Hertz and Franz (who slip in and out of their terrible accents) convince the town's corrupt mayor to let them develop the Sunset Strip. At the same time, bickering rock band Arsenal is breaking up and playing its last show at The Bourbon Room.
But for all of the full-throttle song-and-dance numbers, glitter and cheeky sexual banter, the Morrison Center crowd seemed generally unenthused by the production. There were no rousing singalongs, and despite a wailing performance from the live band onstage, the atmosphere never took on the vibe of a rock concert. The crowd filed out of the auditorium passing the merch table without a second glance.