The story revolves around a Los Angeles club called the Bourbon Room. For the characters, it's a world of showbiz dreams and making it big in the big city. With big hair. And big riffs.
The rudimentary plot revolves around the dreams of the male and female leads. Boy finds girl. Loses girl. Gets big break. Loses it all. They find each other. All on one block of the Sunset Strip. Plus, there's the addition of copious amounts of drugs, stripping and adulation for a hefty amount of anemic rock ballads. The bad guy of the piece is a German property developer who wants to tear down the Bourbon Room to build a Foot Locker. Probably churlish to ponder that most of the songs glorified on stage were bought by teenage girls at malls featuring a Foot Locker.
The cartoon characters and plot have less depth or purpose than an episode of Scooby Doo and if it weren't for a couple of meddling kids, the Bourbon Room club wouldn't be saved at the end. It's a musical that is about saving a club. We didn't spoil anything you already didn't guess. Particularly since the Venetian successfully hosts its own show-inspired Bourbon Room lounge.
This might be the most self-aware production on The Strip. It knows what it is. And, frequently breaks the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience to remind us of that. But, knowing they aren't Les Misérables doesn't mean they skimp on quality. The music and staging all work with clockwork precision. The set design is strangely effective. The soccer mom metal tunes played with precision and reverence.
There's much to like. The cast, without a celebrity or famous name, all work their hearts out. Only the female led has a weakness in her voice. Hiring a famous rocker name would be smart for ticket sales further down the the line, but you will not miss out with the current cast.
Director Kristin Hanggi worked on the doomed Surf the Musical that quickly burned out at Planet Hollywood. Our preview night viewing of that show convinced us Surf would close early. In our media invite seats for Rock of Ages, we witnessed a production that was comfortably unveiled as if it had been on the Strip for years. Zero indication this was opening weekend.
If you think you'll enjoy Rock of Ages, you will probably leave a fan. If you don't dig this era or music, you might be looking at your watch. A taut 90-minute show with no intermission would have helped matters. No luck here. They thoughtfully created a "Whizzmaster 5000" clock to countdown this production's seven-minute break. A two-hour duration is way too long for a show with no plot. When you arrive at the theater, everyone receives a fake cigarette lighter. It's a clever flashlight to raise aloft in the ballads. A litmus test for potential ticket-buyers could be if you've ever willingly done that before.
The moral of the Rock of Ages story, other than a character's flight from justice on a statuary rape charge becoming a fine subject for a cheap joke, is "sometimes the dreams with which you enter are not always the dreams with which you leave, but they still rock." The Venetian's dreams of 80s-loving visitors is a smart demo to spotlight. If crowds are a gauge, recent trips to the Venetian indicate the resort is on a roll. Rocking muzak or not.
For a historical insight into the frequently odious cretins that exemplified the hate-filled misogyny of this particular 80s scene, the excellent documentary Decline Of Western Civilization: The Metal Years shows you all you need to know. L.A.'s real sunset Strip metal scene at Gazzarri's, Rainbow Bar and Grill and the Roxy was also frequently a pay-to-play set-up. Like acts four-walling their residencies in Vegas. Lot of artifice within this culture, folks. Not a lot of real dreams. But then, we also thought the characters in Jersey Boys were infantile low-lifes who just happened to make music so maybe it's us.
Nevertheless, would we recommend Rock Of Ages? Absolutely. It's crude and dumb. Loud and proud. And, very well produced. If you like the music, you'll at least tap your foot, maybe even make the sign of the horns or pump your fist. This writer has exceedingly more eclectic taste in music and was, frankly, bored senseless by the whole show and could not wait for it to be over. If it were funnier to us we might have enjoyed it more. But, for out taste, it never elevated above overly obvious, tired sophomoric sitcom gags. To quote the true genius of Spinal Tap, it's such a fine line between stupid and clever.
But, we're detached enough to note the talent on display. And, we think the Venetian has landed a real hit. We've heard rumors that some performers may occasional turn up at Bourbon Room after the nightly shows. So, if you are on the fence about seeing Rock of Ages, as a gateway drug, check out the Bourbon Room before you graduate to a two-hour musical trip.
Rock Of Ages at The Venetian Las Vegas runs Tuesdays through Fridays and Sundays at 8 p.m. there are two shows on Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Ticket prices range from $45 to $115. VIP Rockstar seating, which includes premium seating in the first two rows of the theatre, is available for $145.