With its parade of pre-existing "hair metal" hits shoehorned into a self-aware script and its unrepentant product placement, "Rock of Ages" harbors no pretense of art, no hint of deeper meaning. Instead, this deliberately dopey jukebox musical revels in big hair and big hits -- and shamelessly cashes in on 1980s nostalgia.
Making that work is a challenge, and Drury Lane's talented cast and crew put a lot of effort into convincingly mocking the era's rock 'n' roll excesses in the musical's regional premiere in Oakbrook Terrace. And it's clear that everyone under the sharp command of director Scott Weinstein delights in getting all the cringe-worthy details meticulously correct.
"Rock of Ages" is ostensibly about the romantic ups and downs of fresh-faced Los Angeles transplants Drew (Russell Mernagh) and Sherrie (Cherry Torres). He's pursuing his dream of being a songwriting rock star; she's hoping to become a great actress. In the meantime, they're working dead-end jobs at The Bourbon Room rock club (an appropriately gritty set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec).
Their struggles, however, are secondary to the songs, with playwright Chris D'Arienzo letting banal power ballads like "High Enough" or "Heat of the Moment" define their emotional range. Even their names and backgrounds were chosen to provide a reason to toss in Journey's "Oh, Sherrie" and "Don't Stop Believing."
In fact, D'Arienzo appears to be more interested in the oddballs surrounding Drew and Sherrie -- a boon to Drury Lane's scene-stealing ensemble of character actors. Chief among the comic conspirators is Nick Druzbanski as Lonny, the simultaneously charming and crude sound guy/omniscient narrator. Lonny shows his smarts by referencing "The Glass Menagerie" at one point, though his character's sexual orientation switch comes out of nowhere.
Also garnering loads of laughs is Adam Michaels as Stacee Jaxx, a lascivious band singer with designs on a solo career. Michaels looks the part of the spoiled and manipulative rock star with his long tresses and costume designer Theresa Ham's outrageous outfits.
A secondary plotline concerns maniacal German developer Hertz (George Keating) and his toady son Franz (Nick Cosgrove), who want to tear down The Bourbon Room in favor of a mega mall. Opposing their plans are the perpetually stoned Bourbon Room owner Dennis (Gene Weygandt) and protesting city planner Regina (Tiffany Tatreau).
Also worthy of performance shout-outs are Donica Lynn and her melisma-filled vocals as the gentlemen's club owner "Mother," Sharriese Hamilton as the generically named "Waitress #1" and John Edwards in the dual greedy roles of "Mayor" and talent scout Ja'Keith Gill. The long-limbed Sawyer Smith also draws attention as a number of hilarious and recurring background characters amid Stephanie Klemons' gyrating choreography.
The onstage band truly rocks, as led by conductor/keyboard player Chris Sargeant. Showered in pools of colorful concert lighting by designer Greg Hofmann, guitarists Dan Peters and Tom Logan, bass player Patrick Williams and drummer Rick Trelease look like they're having the time of their lives.
For anyone who remembers the '80s, "Rock of Ages" offers an unashamedly commercial trip down memory lane. If you're looking for dramatic complexity, give it a pass. But if you want some well-sung nostalgia -- and the chance to laugh at jokes about wine coolers and acid-washed jeans -- Drury Lane has you covered.