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Off-Broadway gets a taste of Sunset Strip in 'Rock of Ages'

October 2, 2008 | 11:58 am

Constantine MaroulisTalk about escapism in the nick of time: as the financial world ruptures and jobs on Wall Street fall through the cracks, New York theatergoers can fling away cares and spend a couple of hours on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, circa 1986.

The off-Broadway show is "Rock of Ages," and stars Constantine Maroulis, who got lots of face time on "American Idol" in 2005. He plays an aspiring heavy metal idol in the jukebox musical, which premiered early in 2006 in a Hollywood Boulevard dance club, inviting audiences to hold butane lighters aloft and shout along on an assortment of familiar, catchy, head-banging refrains while reliving the glory days of the L.A.-spawned "hair band" scene.

Rock fans of a certain age will remember those decibel-dealing sybaritic scions of the Strip -- the Motley Crues, Ratts and Poisons who put in many an all-nighter of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll before stumbling out upon another Morning in America dawn. Previews began Wednesday, with opening night Oct. 16.

Matt Weaver, one of the lead producers, tells us that since the show's L.A. run, they've coaxed previously unavailable rights to "I Want to Know What Love Is" and "Waiting for a Girl Like You," a couple of power ballads from Foreigner. Hits from Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, et al remain on the menu. However, this remains that rare musical without a title song, because Def Leppard simply refuses to put out with "Rock of Ages," an oldie from its "Pyromania" album.

The story by Chris D'Arienzo is your basic tale of a sweet young boy and girl from the sticks who each arrive on the Strip with big showbiz dreams. They meet cute in a Whiskey-like dive called Rock of Ages, only to have a caddish hair band demigod named Stacee Jaxx tempt away the starstruck heroine. But all's well that ends well in this theatrical journey that ends with Journey.

Michele Mais as a nudie-club proprietress with a heart of gold is the lone holdover from the L.A. cast; Laura Bell Bundy, the L.A. heroine, skipped off to a Tony nomination playing Elle Woods in Broadway's "Legally Blonde," (Kelli Barrett now has the part of Sherrie). Weaver reports that Kyle Gass, who played the embattled club owner whose establishment is threatened with a developer's wrecking ball, had to bow out of the New York production to record with Tenacious D, his musical duo with Jack Black.

Chris D'Arienzo The producers hope that "American Idol's" Maroulis will bring along his fans as he plays Drew, the hero; the youthful cast has no other names known outside theater circles. Director Kristin Hanggi is back from the L.A. premiere; she's working with a new choreographer, Kelly Devine, whose credits include "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and "Zhivago" at the La Jolla Playhouse, as well as the assistant-choreographer gig for "Jersey Boys" on Broadway.

Weaver says the producers have plowed $2 million into the New York production, hoping for a long and remunerative run, but not necessarily a transfer to Broadway, which may not be ready for anything louder and rowdier than Billy Joel.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Constantine Maroulis belting on "American Idol" in 2005; credit: Fox. "Rock of Ages" playwright Chris D'Arienzo at a rehearsal for the show's Hollywood premiere in 2006; credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times