Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rock Out With Your Idol Out

Saturday was a big day for me, friends. It found me traveling to Chicago, shopping (one of my favorite pastimes!), eating Indian food, and going to the theatre.

"Big deal," you may be thinking to yourselves. "Outside of the locale and the food, those are all things you do pretty regularly, Mel!"

Ah, but there's a difference here. Saturday night, not only did I go to the theatre, not only did I go see a professional touring production of a Tony-nominated musical starring a Tony nominee himself, BUT said Tony nominee just so happened to be the one, the only Constantine Maroulis and the show was Rock of Ages.

Yes, friends, Saturday night, I found myself in the same room as an American Idol . . . for the first time.

As obsessive as I am about American Idol, until Saturday, I had yet to have the opportunity to experience an Idol live and in person. The Idol tours never come too close to wear I live, and the thrifty Yankee in me has a hard time shelling out $50 to go see a karaoke concert. For every opportunity to see Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or Adam Lambert, after all, you're also stuck seeing Nikki McKibben, Scott Savol, or Katie Stevens. So not worth the pain!

Now, I would have been excited to see the show regardless of Constantine's appearance in it. I love professional theatre, and Rock of Ages is a show that has intrigued me since I first read reviews of it when it opened on Broadway. In a nutshell, the show is kind of standard boy-meets-girl/misunderstandings-lead-girl-to-another/boy-gets-girl. It's a rather featherweight plot. What makes Rock of Ages stand out is that it tells its story using classic hair metal music of the 1980's. Yeah, we're talking Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Survivor, REO, Poison . . . the music that pretty much provided the soundtrack for my adolescence. Every song played came attached with a memory for me, even when the song in question wasn't one I remember liking all that much back in the day.

It's a show with a featherweight plot and cheesy music, filled with cliches and meta moments that break the fourth wall -- things I often cringe at when I encounter them in theatre. So why did I leave the theatre Saturday night with a huge grin on my face?

It wasn't just Constantine, although I will say the guy was awesome. I was a big Constantine fan back when he was a contestant on Idol back during season four. He was cute, talented, and eliminated much too soon. (The fact that Scott Savol outlasted him still sticks in my craw!) Constantine has a real charm onstage, an odd combination of confidence and "aw, shucks" humility that serves him well. He has spent his post-Idol years establishing a pretty nice reputation for himself on Broadway, having appeared in Rent and The Wedding Singer before tackling Rock of Ages (and earning himself a Tony nomination in the process). It would be interesting to see him in something a little more serious, but the fact is the guy works well in this sort of lighter fare and the show rests pretty mightily on his shoulders.

What I loved about the show outside of Constantine, though, was the absolute joy that seemed to fill the stage and, by association, the audience. The cast seemed to be having a blast every single second that they were onstage, and they put everything out there. As the show went on, you could feel the audience relaxing into the show, so much so that by the second act, the audience was singing along . . . loudly. Once you get over your snobbery and release the notion of theatre having to be serious art (it can't all be Shakespeare and Chekhov, friends!) and let the nostalgia and joy wash over you, Rock of Ages becomes a tremendous experience. There was this sense of community that spread through the audience as we all reveled in hearing these songs from our youth (I would guess that the audience largely fell in the 25-45 demographic).

Rock of Ages is also incredibly self-aware. It is a show that knows it is not "serious theatre." It's almost as if you can see the show shrug and say, "You know what? Who cares? Let's just rock out!" More than once, characters engage in these meta moments that wink at the audience and invite us in on the joke that a show featuring the music of Poison, Quiet Riot, and Twisted Sister could find a place on Broadway along with Sondheim and Weber. The fact of the matter is that the show DOES find its place and is filled with a lot of heart and soul. Sometimes, you're in the mood for Sondheim, and sometimes, you're in the mood for Survivor. Thank goodness for Rock of Ages for letting us have our theatre and our Journey all in one sitting.

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