'Rock of Ages' has big sounds, big voices, big hair, big fun -- especially big fun

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  • Big sounds, big voices, big hair, big fun -- especially, big fun.

    Rock of Ages, a boisterous Broadway hit that comes to the Stranahan Theater beginning Thursday, is a fabulous 1980s arena-rock score enveloped in a simple, often funny plot: In 1987, Sherrie, a starry-eyed girl from a small town, comes to the big city (in this case, the famed Sunset Strip in West Hollywood), meets Drew, a sweet, talented guy with big dreams who is working behind the bar in a popular rock club called the Bourbon Room. Sherrie and Drew fall in love, but the romance seems to be derailed when Sherrie meets Stacee Jaxx, an it's-all-about-me rock star. The REO Speedwagon hit "Can’t Fight This Feeling” could be their anthem.

    "It's basically a jukebox musical; it's all songs that everybody knows. It's a concert that tells a story," Joshua Hobbs, who portrays Stacee Jaxx, said in a phone interview. The audience "either knows the '80s or will get to know the '80s, and have an awesome time," he said.

    Arena rock is a variation on the typical hard rock and heavy metal of the late '70s and '80s, with slick productions, anthem-like sing-along choruses, and an emphasis on vocal harmonies, according to press materials. The bands performed in stadiums and arenas, and concerts often featured smoke bombs, laser light shows, and guitar pyrotechnics. The icons of the genre include Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, and Whitesnake, to name a few.

    Rock of Ages will include about 30 classic rock hits, including “Don't Stop Believin'," “We Built This City,” “Wanted Dead or Alive," “Here I Go Again,” “Harden My Heart,” “Renegade,” "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and “I Want To Know What Love Is.”

    Hobbs, who is 28, grew up listening to '80s rock. "My dad loved Journey, I remember him playing the records all the time." And his older brother had a collection of greatest-hits CDs from the '80s. "I knew I wanted to be a singer [and] I just loved that style of music. These guys, it seemed like everyone had no stop to their high range, their voices just kept going higher and higher and higher. To me that was really impressive."

    He is having a good time in the Jaxx role. Hobbs said he was raised in the Midwest by parents who taught him to be kind and respectful, "that's the kind of person I like to think I am," he said. "So to flip that and play the opposite, to be that arrogant Axl Rose type, is really fun. It's fun to play the villain."

    Arsenal, the Rock of Ages band, includes Marshall Keating (conductor and piano), who has been music directing, teaching, and playing piano in New York; guitarist Paul Wiley, a session musician who has toured as support for such bands as Disturbed and Plain White Tees; guitarist Maddox, who has worked with Kill Hannah, Smashing Pumpkins, Jet, and Papa Roach; Rigo Flores (bass), who is active on the Las Vegas music scene, and Bones Elias (drums), who has performed on Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and MTV.

    Lead quitarist Chris Cicchino in the musical 'Rock of Ages.'
    Lead quitarist Chris Cicchino in the musical 'Rock of Ages.'

    Rock of Ages originated in a Los Angeles club in 2005, opened Off-Broadway in 2008, and began its Broadway run in 2009. The show was nominated for five Tony Awards, including best musical. It currently is playing on Broadway and in Las Vegas, and inspired a 2012 film probably best remembered for the over-the-top performance of Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx.

    Hobbs says he has crafted his own version of Stacee:  "He's very confident, he gets what he wants, and everybody comes to him. And he is kind of funny." His favorite moment in the show is when he sings Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive." "That's when Stacee Jaxx is introduced ... and I'm wearing these tight white pants, zebra-print shirt, cowboy hat, sunglasses, boots ... it's full-out, it's pretty cool."

    Hobbs' credits include the national tour of Burn the Floor; understudy to the actor playing Drew in an earlier Rock of Ages tour, and the regional tour of Rocky Horror; he also has been an entertainer for Royal Caribbean cruises. Rock of Ages stars also include Dominique Scott as Drew; he and his New York-based rock band, Domin8trx, have released their debut album, Carousel. Shannon Mullen portrays Sherrie; her credits include national tours of “Legally Blonde” (Brooke Wyndham/dance captain) and "Hairspray” (Tammy).

    Rock of Ages is directed by Kristin Hanggi, who was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for best direction of a musical for the production; direction is recreated by Adam John Hunter. The show is choreographed by Kelly Devine, with choreography recreated by Marcos Santana. The book is by Chris D’Arienzo, original arrangements are by David Gibbs, and music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations are by Ethan Popp. Costume design is by Gregory Gale, who was nominated in 2009 for a Tony Award for best costume design of a musical.

    Rock of Ages will be performed at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., in six shows: Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Feb. 9 at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $68, from 419-381-8851, stranahantheater.com, or the box office.

    Contact Sue Brickey at: sbrickey@theblade.com.