“Wake Up,” the musical by Rainhard Fendrich and Harold Faltermeyer that has been a strong seller in Vienna for over a year, has a lot going for it, especially when you consider that the sole likable character is in a coma long before the end of the first act.
In this “Sleeping Beauty” remake, Ronny Reno, a washed-up, alcohol-and-drug-abusing rocker, is coerced into an ill-fated comeback by his manager, the egregiously slimy Jeff Zodiak; his dominatrix girlfriend, Lydia; and his shrewish mother. When financial ruin strikes, Ronny fires Zodiak, who takes revenge by drugging an innocent fan, Rosanna, who dreams of stardom through a Reno-penned song. Zodiak sets up Ronny as the perpetrator of the sex-and-drugs attack on Rosanna, which sends her to the ICU, and Ronny to prison. Ronny denounces Zodiak’s plot to fake psychiatric illness to avoid criminal charges.
Released on bail, Ronny slips into Rosanna’s hospital room and, quicker than you can say “someday my prince will come,” the muse descends. The choked-up Ronny croons “Even If Your Hand Doesn’t Feel Anything,” which sets the monitors of Rosanna’s vital signs aflutter. In court, Rosanna reveals Zodiak as the true culprit, and she and Ronny start a new, simple life together.
If the fun, frenetic, funk-infused score has a familiar ring to it, it is probably because Faltermeyer is the Oscar-nominated composer for such Hollywood blockbusters as “Top Gun” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” Incorporating astute, tricky rhythms and elements of rap, the music is graced by brilliant orchestrations by Faltermeyer and Christian Kolonovits. The lyrics are largely predictable, missing no opportunity to end a rhyme with an obscenity, and there is blessed little book.
Highlights are Ronny and Zodiak’s duet “Friends Like Us,” Rosanna’s dream of “A Chance,” Zodiak’s act-one-closing production number, “Money,” and a rowdy disco prison ensemble, “Have You Never Been in Jail?” But while “Even If Your Hand” may stick in your head, it does so like so many other 1980s feel-good power-ballads, a hybrid of “Endless Love” and “Up Where We Belong.”
Despite the occasionally hackneyed material, the show succeeds on the considerable power of Philippe Arlaud’s cinematic direction and stunning day-glo sets and lighting (including ingenuous incorporation of video during Ronny’s comeback concert); the perky, MTV-inspired choreography of Kim Duddy; and the infectious energy of the large, committed cast.
Erwin Windegger blazes with demonic charisma as Zodiak. 23-year-old Marjan Shaki is a charming Rosanna, a welcome dose of sanity in Ronny’s nightmare world. As Ronny’s monster mother, Christa Helige vamps through her big-band number with a deep mezzo belt. Anne Mandrella plays Lydia as an Amazon in black patent leather, displaying legs that seem to go on forever and a voice to match.
As Ronny, Stefan Poslovski easily negotiates the many jumps into Little Richard high falsetto, and provides a nice balance as the oil to Windegger’s vinegar. Better still, he finds a way to make an essentially repulsive character vulnerable and endearing. If we never quite believe that Poslovski’s Ronny was a mega-star, it makes his desire for an ordinary life more plausible.