The Tony-nominated “Rock of Ages” makes a triumphant return to the city where it started, in this thoroughly entertaining touring company production. One doesn’t have to be a fan of heavy metal to enjoy such a smart and funny jukebox musical, but those who rocked out to Twisted Sister, Warrant, Whitesnake or Quiet Riot back in the day will likely appreciate it even more. Kristin Hanggi’s constantly inventive direction and an excellent ensemble highlight a show that is simply very fun.
The secret weapon of the show is Chris D’Arienzo’s hilarious book, which is sweeter and sharper than one might expect. Its self-deprecating humor is disarming, and it hits both high and low, from witty asides (“Meanwhile, 337 Waffle Houses away…”) to pornographic ping-pong. Constantine Maroulis is genuinely appealing as the shy Drew, who wants to be a rock star, and he shows he has the vocal goods in “I Wanna Rock.” Hopeful actress Sherrie is winningly played by Rebecca Faulkenberry, who can deliver a polished pop sheen on “More Than Words” but can also kick out the jams in other songs.
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Patrick Lewallen’s turn as narrator Lonny is assured and delightful, breaking the fourth wall with panache. Nick Cordero, ever resplendent in leather fringe, brings a gruff charm to club owner Dennis, and his duet with Lewallen on “Can’t Fight This Feeling” brings down the house. MiG Ayesa’s sleazy rocker Stacee Jaxx is a luxuriantly dissipated creation, and Travis Walker’s fey German Franz isn’t politically correct yet is deeply amusing all the same. Finally, Teresa Stanley displays a dynamic and impressive voice in “Shadows of the Night,” among other numbers.
Hanggi keeps the pace vibrant, but she also makes sure every joke is heard, a neat trick. The choreography by Kelly Devine is a joyful celebration of the music. The rock club set by Beowulf Boritt encapsulates the Sunset Strip in a single space, from its period Angelyne billboard and strip club signs to bar walls full of rock memorabilia, and the video wall behind it livens it up even more. Jason Lyons’s lighting re-creates the full rock concert experience, including lasers. Gregory Gales’ costumes glory in leather and glitter, and Brandon Ethridge’s onstage band shreds admirably.