Not long from now, seniors in retirement homes will be head-banging to Whitesnake. A change in the menu in the dining room will risk a spontaneous chorus of "We're Not Gonna Take It," twisting each sister in the joint. Quiet Riot will be commonplace.
This is demographically obvious: Jimmy Buffett already plans a "Margaritaville"-themed senior community, with, he says, ample supplies of medical marijuana. But awareness of these big shifts often comes to us at small, emblematic moments. Like, for example, Friday night at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, long friendly confines for Dolly Levi, Tevye and Madame Rose, now improbable host of the glam-metal jukebox show “Rock of Ages.”
"Enjoy having your face melted off," went the pre-show announcement.
I don't know what the charming gentleman across from me had planned for his post-dinner entertainment Friday, but dollars to donuts a liquefied visage was not on his menu.
But the nice guy, who found my eyes a few times, went with director Scott Weinstein's locally wrought, aptly sleazy tale of Hollywood, circa 1987, when the raw City of Angels was a siren song for wannabes and badly behaved rock stars had yet to be shamed by the woke on Facebook.
"Rock of Ages," a long-running and very lucrative Broadway hit penned by Chris D’Arienzo with the cooperation of bands like Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon and the ilk, is a Las Vegas-friendly show that celebrates sexy decadence and makes fun of scandalous behavior. For some, anyway, it achieves an amnesty from inherent bad taste by keeping its tongue firmly in its hollowed-out cheek, peddling wine cooler-fueled nostalgia, and injecting the proceedings with so many power ballads that you reflexively reach for the lighter that no longer is allowed to be in your pocket.
Compared with the original production, the volume of the Drury Lane show does not rise to ear-splitting levels, which makes sense given that some subscribers were buying a package (although I thought the show ideally needed a few jolts of the dial to the right on the mixing board; I mean, if you're doing "Rock of Ages," you're doing "Rock of Ages"). And for full-bore metal purists, the vocals will seem insufficiently strained and not epic enough for the performers faces to be officially deemed to have been sung off.
But, as a whole, the show compares very favorably to the original production (for a cheaper price) and, for sure, is far superior to the non-Equity tour that came through Chicago. If you've seen the show a lot, like me, you'll notice that the Drury Lane choreography, which is by Stephanie Klemons, is far more detailed, witty, character-based and even gently subversive than you've seen before. It's well executed, too, by a skilled group of dancers led by the fabulous Andrea Collier.
The principals are all very solid: Cherry Torres and Russell Mernagh both are charming, empathetic leads who add some nuanced feeling to the score and, more importantly, maintain a viable tone. Nick Druzbanski, who plays the Jack Black-like narrator, is very funny throughout. When you can hear him, anyway. Adam Michaels is a credible ego-maniacal rocker, and the extravagantly bewigged Gene Weygandt is game as the old stoner who runs the bar and music venue in which the tawdry proceedings unfold.
The plot of "Rock of Ages" (which involves German developers threatening to replace the beloved Bourbon Room with a Foot Locker) is the dumbest aspect of this show. No production can overcome its flaws, but, thanks to Tiffany Tatreau and Nick Cosgrove, it's at least a few ticks more fun that usual. I also got a big kick out of watching the work of Sawyer Smith, who made every ensemble role he played a total blast.
The key to a decent production of this show is detail — and that's Weinstein's byword here. It's not some auteur retooling — "Rock of Ages" is just "Rock of Ages" — but if you've never had the dubious pleasure, here you go.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Rock of Ages” (3 stars)
When: Through Oct. 15
Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Tickets: $45-$60 at 800-745-3000 or drurylanetheatre.com