When books and stage productions get turned into movies, the results are often disappointing; the vision of the characters and their environs that we create in our minds is sometimes vastly different from that of a director. While alternate interpretations can be interesting, they are rarely satisfying. This year will see the release of a number of movies that have been adapted from books and the stage, and while I am looking forward to seeing them (the always interesting Baz Luhrmann is releasing a 3D version of The Great Gatsby this Christmas; my favorite book, the notoriously un-filmable On The Road will also see a cinematic release; and my favorite musical of all time, Les Misérables, will finally receive a long-overdue film version), my expectations are low.
For that reason, I usually prefer to see the movie first, and then go back and experience the original source material, though I know that puts me in the minority. Things didn't quite work out that way today, as Justin and I were able to score some $25 seats to Rock of Ages, the jukebox musical that tells a love story against the backdrop of the L.A. hair-metal scene of the late 1980s.
Ever since the show first came to Chicago, I've been on the fence about seeing it. I tend not to like jukebox musicals. Occasionally, they rise to be more than the sum of their parts, and tell a compelling story, as in Mama Mia! More often than not, however, they seem like an excuse to cram as many songs by a given artist into a show, so they can live another profit-bringing life. Movin' Out, the jukebox musical build around the music of Billy Joel, is perhaps the worst offender in terms of stringing together a vapid, uninteresting plot in the name of employing as many songs as possible.
I did pick up a bit of that vibe from Rock of Ages, which draws material from a range of hair metal bands and 80's artists, including Bon Jovi, Poison, Whitesnake, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, and Twisted Sister. While some of the choices seemed a little excessive/unnecessary, they mainly served to further the plot. The story arc may have been on the frivolous side, but the kitsch and constant poking fun at the 80's music scene was part of the fun.
The cast was far from the most talented group of performers I've seen on stage lately, but they almost made up for it with their tremendous energy. This particular production of Rock of Ages benefited greatly from being staged at the Broadway Playhouse Theater, the relatively small space located in the back of the Water Tower Place shopping mall. Not only does the intimate venue ensure that there are no bad seats, in this case, it gave the audience greater opportunity to feed off the energy of the performers. People readily clapped in time to the music, sang along, and fired up the cigarette lighter-shaped flashlights that had been distributed by the ushers. It's safe to say the audience was really into it.
All in all, the show made for a very entertaining and enjoyable evening. The production, as is the case with many touring casts, was very stripped down, with a minimum of sets and actors. I could see how it would be better as a movie, with a larger budget for increased production values. From watching the trailer, it's also evident that the plot has undergone considerable revision for the movie, which I can only hope will allow for a smidge more character development, which I think would greatly improve the show.