“You may love or hate my character, Stacee Jaxx,” Dave Mensch said. A professional singer/songwriter who performs up to 250 concerts a year, Mensch portrays a monstrously successful rock ’n’ roll star in the rambunctious musical “Rock of Ages.” It opens this weekend at the Durango Arts Center.
The original musical opened in 2005 at a Los Angeles club on Hollywood Boulevard. A popular hit, it moved to off-Broadway then Broadway in 2009, where it ran for a whopping 2,328 performances.
In 2012, Hollywood scooped it up and got Tom Cruise to play Jaxx. Since then, touring companies have taken “ROA” to England, Australia and South Africa, among other countries. Right now, it’s playing at a casino in Las Vegas – and on Second Avenue in Durango.
To say this production is ambitious for DAC is an understatement. It’s big, racy-to raunchy, musically challenging, often silly and definitely not family fare.
Whether or not you love (or like, or even know about) ’80s music, this energetic romp with Mensch’s predictably compelling portrayal of an outsize rocker may be what we all need this summer.
“It took me a while to get used to a character that doesn’t have any redeeming qualities,” Mensch said. “I sort of like him in spite of himself.”
The formula is simple, situated somewhere between a mock rock concert and an old-fashioned Broadway musical. Stuffed with more than 30 songs from the ’80s by bands such as Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, plus other luminaries, the musical features an onstage band and performers who sing their way through love, trouble and longing.
A thin romantic storyline centers on a love triangle: Drew, a busboy who admires Jaxx and aspires to rock star fame (Paul Stewart III) falls in love with Sherrie, a naïve out-of-towner who dreams of an acting career (Melissa Kirschstein).
Jaxx manages to use, betray and yet entertain everybody.
It’s 1987, and we’re on the Sunset Strip where the fictional Bourbon Room sorta flourishes and a nearby strip joint, the Venus Club, struggles.
A subplot introduces two monied German developers who want to turn Sunset Boulevard into a clean-living shopping mall.
Not to be a spoiler, but in an everybody’s-got-a-dream musical, a Hollywood happy ending can’t be far behind.
“Yes, ‘ROA’ has a thin story,” Director Theresa Carson said.
“I’ll admit it, but I wanted something lighter this summer. Two years ago, we did ‘Rent.’ It was dark and also not a family show. We had such a good time, many cast members have returned. So, here we are with ‘ROA.’”
Paula Millar, music director and pianist, heads up a band with guitarist Fred Kosak, bassists Tracy Korb and Even Suiter on alternate nights, and percussionists Ted Moore and Mark Rosenberg. Suzy DiSanto choreographs, and once again, technical direction is in the capable hands of Eric Bulrice.
Two stage managers, Whitney Gonzales and Andy Grimm, may corral a musical that always flirts with the edge.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.