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We Highly Recommend Rock Of Ages (But, Hope We Never Have To See It Again)

January 7, 2013 at 8:33 PM | by | ()

Raise your fists, bang your head and feel the noise. Rock of Ages has crashed the party at the Venetian. Some of you will love it. For the rest of us, make sure you know what you are heading into.

Set in 1987, despite a handful of songs dated from later in the 1980s, this is a jukebox musical based around hair-metal hits of the Eighties. You'll know most of them. You can feel the anticipation in the audience when certain song lyrics are first spoken. Then a sense of dread for others as they start to sing out the whole song.

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.

Archived Comments:

Could Have Skipped The Social Commentary

As someone who did willingly raise a lighter during the 80's at concerts like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Journey, Van Halen, Motley Crue (and the list goes on forever...), I can sympathize that this show is absolutely not for those who have disdain for the rock/metal genre of that era.

We weren't trying to change the world. We weren't looking for deep philosophical lyrics. We just wanted a really fun, powerful, big, loud soundtrack to our lives. We didn't really need a plot. In our lives, we were along for the ride and all we needed was the music.

The line "...hate-filled misogyny of this particular 80s scene..." was completely out-of-line.

Misogyny? As you adeptly noted, the soccer moms of the 2000's who still love this stuff were the ones buying the records and concert tickets. Nobody was forcing them to glam themselves up and put on a barely-there mini-dress and head out to a concert or rock club.

Sure... many of the tunes had plenty of sex and sexual overtones. (And BTW, the little rock hotties of the day were singing along and celebrating the naughty lyrics... clearly not offended).

But HATE-FILLED? Are you kidding me? If anything, most of the songs were filled with sexual adoration for the women. Wanting to have sex doesn't add up to hate-filled misogyny.

Take it from someone who was very much in that scene on the west coast (including spending some time on the real Sunset Strip in 1988): It was all about the music. It was all about the party. And it's nice to see our abundantly popular but long-derided genre in the spotlight.

Spot On

I saw Rock of Ages at the Venetian on the first preview night last month. For my money, this review is slighty harsh but very accurate. I wasn't expecting much and I still was disappointed. The main problem with the show is the book. There is zero character development, which makes it nearly impossible to care about anyone up on the stage.

That said, I thought that all the performers had excellent voices. As a group, it was clear that they were doing their best to  make something out of a remarkably poor excuse for a Broadway musical.

Finally, I agree that the show is quite misogynistic. With one sole exception, every female character is either a waitress, a groupie, a stripper, or a former stripper. (The female lead manages to be all four of those things!) There's nothing inherently misogynistic about a song glorifying a hot woman. But, context matters. When those types of songs are sung by a character that discards women immediately after having sex, it's hard to see them as anything other than misogynistic.

Why the raunch? Doesn't make it better.

Saw the movie last week, before the surprise tickets to the show.  Thought it would taint my opinion, and I was right!  The show is horrible in comparison.  The MUSICIANS were wonderful and get credits.  The sets, also great.  The direction is at fault here.  You can add sexual innuendo's without sacrificing dignity.  We left mid show.  The theater was half full.  

Rock of Ages... well... rocks!

OK, I just saw this show last week and it was awesome.  You will like it too, if not love it, IF you go in with the right of frame of mind.

This is not Les Miz or Wicked on Broadway.  It's 'Rock of Ages' in Vegas.

If you walk into the theater loving 80's rock ballads & am looking for a fun party, then you'll have a blast.

But there are plenty of straight-laced, socialites that hated the show along side of us because of exactly what the reviews above mentioned.  It's shallow.  It lacks star power.  It's a contrite story.  It has sexual innuendo & scantily clad artists.

My advice - watch the movie first.  Sure, Tom Cruise & Julianne Hough will not be in Vegas, but plenty of talent working their butts off will.  If you like the movie, you'll love the Vegas show.

Some pre-show advice - do whatever you need to do to get into a 'party mood', grab a drink on the way in & just have fun.  Pump your first.  Sing along.  Just plan on having fun & you will.

One of the best shows I've even seen.  Use the advice above & you'll at least walk out saying "Yup, that was fun!"