Prepare to be wowed by 'Rock of Ages'

Musical set in the big-hair '80s stops at the Cohan Center next week

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comApril 9, 2014 

The cast of "Rock of Ages."

SCOTT SUCHMAN

Harken back, if you can, to a time when mullets were chic, "Pac-Man" was cutting edge and an old lady shouting “Where’s the beef?” was comic mastery.

If the 1980s represented your glory days, maybe you’re already hopelessly stuck in a “Back to the Future”-style time warp, featuring Ray-Ban shades, yuppie Beemers and dudes named Corey. But even if you hated the ’80s and all its sweating-to-the-oldies, Cold War, gag-me-with-a-spoon culture, you have to admit one thing:

That Whitesnake song totally rawked.

“I think we lovingly like to joke about how ridiculous we were,” said singer and actor Dominique Scott. “But at the time it wasn’t ridiculous. I think that’s how things roll. Every generation comes up with something new, and the old thing becomes uncool, and we laugh at it.”

Born in 1988, Scott doesn’t have much of an ’80s history. But he does playfully poke fun at the decade in “Rock of Ages,” a Generation X musical coming to Cal Poly Wednesday.

“What’s cool about the show is that we laugh at it in a very loving way,” Scott said. “From the hair to the Spandex to the fitness videos.”

Finally recovered from the turbulent 1960s, the United States in the ’80s represented a period of self-indulgent social stability. Fittingly, rock music of the decade thrived on excess while trying to buck inevitable change. By the time most of the mullets had vanished, the ’80s were already uncool. But just as ’60s music made a comeback in the ’80s, ’80s music would wait for its own rebirth. And when techno, hip-hop and Justin Bieber fully commandeered the charts, the backlash opened the door for bands like Journey to resurrect. 

With that in mind, “Rock of Ages” — the title comes from a Def Leppard song — was born just as ’80s babies were reaching adulthood. A love story set on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in 1987, the jukebox musical began in Los Angeles before making its Broadway debut in 2009. Because of its popularity on the Great White Way, the show hit the road, touring the country in buses befitting an ’80s act.

When he first heard about auditions, Scott was in a rock band of his own, called Domin8trx, and he had rock pedigree: His father had been a member of a band called Hollow Spirit, which had once played to large crowds (and groupies) in Europe.

Still, that wasn’t enough to impress casting directors. Scott — who studied music in college and had appeared in numerous musicals — wasn’t called back after auditioning for both the Broadway show and its touring production.

“I thought I did awesome,” Scott said of his second audition. “I was so frustrated, I went home and made a video.”

In the video, he performed some of the songs from “Rock of Ages.” And, after the video got some traction on YouTube, he got a call from the casting director, who was suddenly interested.

“I guess he didn’t remember that he had cut me from the initial audition,” Scott said.

Soon he was cast as Drew, the busboy with rock and roll fantasies, who meets Sherrie, a small-town girl with entertaining dreams of her own.

While the show touts its fun story, this musical is mostly about the music — 30 songs that channel the best (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and the worst (“We Built This City”) of a decade. The tunes, including covers of Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and various hair bands, guide the storyline. But at times, the show is much more like an ’80s concert than a touring Broadway musical.

“People do get up in their seats,” Scott said. “They sing along sometimes. They bring lighters to the shows. I get panties thrown at me sometimes.”

As theatergoers become increasingly post-Baby Boomer, more shows have appealed to the rock and roll generation, leading to the inevitable: a hair band musical. 

While “Rock of Ages” gives songs by Poison and Twisted Sister a place on a different kind of stage, not every band was interested in having their songs sung by theater types.

“Our show is called ‘Rock of Ages,’ but we couldn’t get the rights to the song from Def Leppard,” Scott said. “When they were approached, they wanted nothing to do with it.”

IF YOU GO

"Rock of Ages"
7:30 p.m. Wednesday (preshow lecture by promoter Bruce Howard begins at 6:30 p.m. at Performing Arts Center Pavilion)
Cohan Center, Cal Poly
$48 or $88
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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