I WANNA ROCK: A Review of the Rock of Ages National Tour
My wife and I recently had a wonderful weekend getaway in Nashville. Great city. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to go. We were going to take part in National Record Store Day at Jack White’s Third Man Records. My wife is a bit of a fan (to put it mildly). We didn’t really have any plans for the weekend other that to make sure we went to the record store. About a week or 2 before we went, I searched for “things to do in Nashville.” To my surprise, the Rock of Ages National Tour was going to be in Nashville Friday and Saturday. I thought, “Wow! This is perfect! Amy and I enjoyed the movie (Yeah… that’s right. Hollywood, if you’re into tracking purchases, I was the one that bought the Blu Ray. You’re welcome. Mystery solved.), so it seemed like perfect timing. Snagged some tickets and eagerly awaited the Friday evening performance.
A little background about me: my degree is a BFA in Theater with an emphasis in Performance. I’ve performed in many shows and attended almost as many. Does this qualify me as a amazing theater critic? No. But it does mean that I have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about when it comes to “treading the boards.” As far as musicals are concerned, I’m more of an “actor that can sing” performer. Meaning, I’m primarily an actor, but can sing when called upon. Not well, but I can carry a tune. There are many different classifications in musical theater: Actors that can sing, singers that can act, actors that can dance, actors that can move well, singers that can dance, and so on. You get the point. The point being, even though I would never be cast as a lead in a musical, I do know a great deal about performance.
First off, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (or TPAC) is a nice facility. I thought it seemed a tad on the small side for a national tour, but I’m not complaining about that. Just about any seat was good. And Nashville knows a thing or 2 about how to set up a performance hall. So, kudos to the city of Nashville for investing in a fine theater space.
As the lights dimmed, I didn’t really know what to expect. FULL DISCLOSURE: I have not seen the original Broadway version of the show. But I ASSUME that the touring show isn’t much different from the original. And you know what happens when you assume….. Of course we had our preconceived notions based on the film version, but we all know a film version of a stage production isn’t always great. Nine times out of 10, it’s horrible. Case in point: Rent. Fantastic stage version; horrible film. Anyway, my first impression from the stage design was one of intrigue. The stage designer did a great job of accommodating all of the locations in a compact setting. And they also had a huge set of LCD screens at the center rear of the stage that was utilized… a lot. Light design was top notch as well. All of the technical elements were outstanding!
As the actors came on stage, one quickly picked up on the direction they were going. A lot of the characters were interesting and a bit different from their film counterparts. The character of Lonny acted as narrator of the show. A lot of his stuff was great, but I did have a bit of an issue with some of his choices. One thing that quickly got on my nerves was this “clapping” thing he did to emphasize a point or get the audience’s attention. Actually, I don’t know if he even knew he was doing it. Almost like it was a nervous tick. But he did it a lot and it got old after the first, oh…. 2 times he did it. Very distracting. Other than that, he did good. As far as the character, I started to feel like the show was about Lonny, and not our male and female leads. Yeah, I know a narrator defines and controls the tempo of the show, but this character seemed to be a bit more prominent at times when the focus should have been elsewhere.
There were a few characters through out the show that were unnecessary or not fully developed. Like the mayor or the sleezy band manager. They just never really connected as if they were just an afterthought or a means to an end. They ended up being more of a distraction than helping to move the story forward.
As far as the
Bret Michaels Stacee Jax character, I hesitate to even say anything, but I gotta be honest. The character is just a throw away character in the stage version. Once again, almost an afterthought. As far as the actor, well let’s just say he didn’t seem to understand the character. There are just some roles that, no matter how good the actor, you just can’t play. In the same way, the actor playing Stacee Jax could not connect with his character, making it impossible to sell it to the audience.
Now comes Drew and Sherrie, our male and female leads. Not a lot of chemistry there. Sure, they could sing, but so could most of the rest of the cast. Kind of a prerequisite for being on tour with a Broadway musical. That’s like saying, “Hey, that car has wheels on it.” Usually goes without saying. I don’t know if it’s because the characters were written this way or if the actors just didn’t click.
One of my favorite sub plots was the part that included Regina and Franz. Both of them were quirky characters that provided a lot of great comic relief to the show. Wonderful characters that the film mistakenly left out.
Up to this point a lot of what I have stated has been critical. Please don’t let that distract you from the show. Most of it is minor, nit-picky stuff. On the whole, the cast and crew put on an outstanding show. I especially loved the band, which is on stage throughout the entire show. And, the music? C’mon! How can you go wrong with the classics that comprise this soundtrack? They were fantastic and the cast performed them well. The only negative thing I would say is that they may have tried to cram too many great songs into one show. And I completely understand! There is a lot of great material one would want to include in this show. It’s almost as if the playwright had an 80’s playlist on his iPod with all his favorite songs and thought, “Man, I wish there was a musical that had all of my favorite songs.” And then he tried to figure out a way to string them all together in a story. Most of which were cleverly placed, but some were a stretch.
My biggest critique didn’t come to me until later when I had time to digest the show. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but it finally hit me. The show seemed to be written by an actor for an actor. It felt like it was written as a project for a bunch of actors that all wanted to be stars, no matter what role they were cast in. Kind of what you think of when a bunch of theater majors get bored on a Saturday night and start playing around and creating scenes for themselves. (What? Me? Did I ever do that? Pshaw…. never! Okay… maybe once or twice. ALRIGHT! Yes! I did it a lot. Probably every Saturday night of my junior year in college.) And this could just be the actors, but it seemed like in every scene, someone other than who the scene was focused on tried to steal the scene. So the show consisted of a bunch of scene stealing characters. Most of the time, this was done by Lonny, but every character had points in which they tried to steal the scene. If you don’t have a background in performing, you may not know what I’m talking about. But those of you who do, you know exactly what I mean. Heck, I’ve even been guilty of doing the same thing (early on in my career). This is usually something that professors and directors beat out of the actor, but occasionally, you still see it professionally. Once again, I don’t know if the show was written that way or if it was just the actors doing it to “ham it up” a bit.
I know I may come off sounding overly critical of the show. Not meant to. The show was a lot of fun and the audience seemed to really get into it. I loved the audience interaction and the “concert” vibe you got from the musical numbers. Many of the parts were cleverly written. I will caution you that it is very, how should I say, “rock and roll oriented.” Meaning that if foul language, scantily clad women, or loud music bothers you, then maybe you shouldn’t see it. But, if none of that bothers you, then it’s well worth the price of admission.
In this case, we actually enjoyed the film more than the stage version. But, I will admit, this could just be a case of “you always like the version you experienced first.” (You know, “book is always better than the movie” kind of thing.)
Bottom line: if you get a chance to see the show, GO! Never miss an opportunity to ROCK!