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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Drew and Lonny (Dominique Scott and Justin Colombo) in "Rock of Ages." (PHOTO: Scott Suchman)

"Rock of Ages" is raunchy throwback fun


One of the best things about live theater is that it doesn't ask much of an audience.

You don't need to know anything in order to fall in love with a play. Just give it a chance and it will most likely win you over.

That is clearly the case with "Rock of Ages," the paean to big hair rock and roll of the 1980s that opened Tuesday night at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

I think that the 1980s may well have been the bleakest period for music in the last 50 or 60 years. I'm not an expert, nor a fan, of the era.

But from the first ear-splitting buzz of a guitar, a wall of sound that sounds like you are in the wash of a jet fighter, the hams pounding the drums and the blaze of light that seems to shine to the sky, this is a show that doesn't care whether you like the '80s or not.

There was some great music in the '80s from Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and Dire Straits. But they don't even get a nod in this production.

This is about who could be dirtier and still get played on the radio, who could shock in live performances, who could have the best, or worst, hair. This was about girls giving it up to the rockers and all the guys wanting to be rock and roll stars.

It was a crazy time. We were a country that elected Ronald Reagan and fell in love with Twisted Sister. Go figure.

The best thing about "Rock of Ages" is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Or seriously at all, for that matter.

It's filled with raunchy and obscene gestures and foul language, but everything is done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and nobody can think this is trash.

When this band and its singers get cracking, you can feel the wind whistle past your ears and your hair blow in the breeze. It is incredibly slick.

There is hardly any story here. Just the outline of the girl who goes to Hollywood, meets a boy, becomes a stripper, goes back home and finds the boy again. The tale is just an excuse for the music.

But it's not a rock and roll concert either.

This is a Broadway show with all the perfection that you'd expect.

One of the great things about rock and roll has always been its unpredictability. Keith Richards has been playing "Jumpin' Jack Flash" for almost 50 years and he says he still hasn't got it right. He never plays it the same way twice.

That is not the case with this national tour of "Rock of Ages." The music is perfect. The singing is electric and uniformly strong. The dancing is riveting. It is a very disciplined display of talent.

This is pure entertainment. In the end, it's not so much a feast of love as it is a send-up of an era that never got much respect.

Between Bill Clinton and "Glee," Alvin and the Chipmunks and dozens of sports teams, I've had about all I can take of "Don't Stop Believin'." I didn't like it much when Journey did it in the '80s and it could easily disappear from sight now and nobody would miss it.

But for one night, mixed with humor and a cute bunch of kids singing and dancing their little hearts out while they pretend to be nasty rock and roll stars, "Don't Stop Believin'" seems like an apt description of a very enjoyable night at the theater.

Ticket information for "Rock of Ages" is available at the Marcus Center website. It runs through Nov. 18.


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