In jukebox musicals, the plot is often just a thin excuse for the songs but Rock of Ages tests the limit. It’s the mid-to-late ’80s and in a little bar on the Sunset Strip, a young man from Detroit named Drew, played by Dominique Scott, is mopping floors and following his rock and roll dreams. In walks Shannon Mullen as Sherrie, a girl with a dream of her own about becoming an actress.
Will there be love? Will there be a misunderstanding that leads to a period of separation in which they are both forced to reexamine those dreams? Obviously.
Meanwhile over at city hall, a German father and son development team has convinced the mayor to demolish the Sunset Strip. A hippie city planner named Regina (pronounced like the city in Saskatchewan, of course) calls foul because apparently she finds strip joints preferable to strip malls. She spends the rest of the show chained to the side of the building shouting, “power to the proletariat!”
Just before the end of the first act of, the narrator Lonny — a portly Justin Colombo doing a passable Jack Black impression—pulls out a copy of “Musicals for Dummies” and for a second, it all makes sense. They think they’re doing satire. But Rock of Ages is neither intelligent nor funny enough to be satire.
At no point does the story make an adequate argument for why the audience should care about the characters or the bar that they are half-heartedly fighting to save. The jokes are raunchy but never subversive. And in case you didn’t get them the first time, the narrator will run back in and explain to you why they are funny and then run back out again. Even then, only half of them manage to land over the noise of the soundtrack.
Kelly Devine’s choreography has us leering at the female cast from start to finish. Within the first notes of the opening song, waitresses in tiny skirts are bending over tables to show brightly coloured underwear and they keep it up for pretty much the entire runtime. Much of the second act actually takes place in a strip club where we see the female lead unconvincingly beat a man up while giving him a lap dance. If that’s meant to save the show from drowning in unchecked misogyny, it fails.
The soundtrack offers no variation at all. It’s just power anthem followed by power ballad at 100-per-cent volume for the full two and a half hour run time, each song a top 40 hit that by no means represents the best of its genre. The first act goes on at least two songs too long, making you beg for an intermission. It’s toned down a bit for the second act but still maintains the kind of endless drone of fist pumping noise that makes it difficult to muster any excitement for a final climax. Meanwhile, awkward arrangements and mash-ups zap the fun out of the few songs that managed to stay mildly entertaining despite constant radio rotation.
And if that’s not enough to convince you that this city is built less on rock and roll than on cash, keep an eye out for the actual product placements that pop up at regular intervals disguised as running gags.
If you really wanna rock, stay home and rent Wayne’s World. Nothing in Rock of Ages is as gnarly as Tia Carrere’s screaming cover of Ballroom Blitz anyway.