Delayed 'Rock of Ages' at the Garde was worth the wait

I realize they say that good things come to those who wait, but what about waiting a whole hour for "Rock of Ages" to start?

The Phoenix Entertainment tour was scheduled to begin its Sunday performance at the Garde Arts Center at 3 p.m. The clock creeped past 3, as a woman onstage seemed to be going over with the performers, still in street clothes, where they should be at various points in various numbers. Around 3:30, someone from the tour finally - finally! - came out to tell the crowd what was going on. He said that they were running late (we had kind of figured that part out) and that what we were watching was a re-spacing rehearsal. The tour stops at theaters of varying sizes, so the production expands and contracts to fit the venues - and the dancers and singers have to adjust accordingly.

He stepped offstage ... and it was another half-hour before the show went on.

Sigh.

Fortunately, when the performance did begin, it was a total romp. "Rock of Ages" is a clever conceit, toying with 1980s mockable trends and hair-metal music, as well as with stage musical conventions. The "Rock of Ages" book by Chris D'Arienzo sends up the acid-washed-jeans era while still showing real affection for it.

D'Arienzo made smart choices when picking the songs by going for ones that have a larger-than-life theatricality that can work on a musical stage. The idea of putting a tune in an unexpected context works, too; a rocker busting out "Renegade" while on the run from the cops after, shall we say, dating an underage girl, for instance, and a man blubberingly crooning "I'm Gonna Keep on Lovin' You" while thinking of his son who has finally stood up to dear ol' dad. A frustration for the listener, though: Too often, the songs get chopped and not sung the whole way through.

The storyline was clearly built to provide the perfect spots for these hits. A young guy named Drew dreams of being a rock singer; cue Drew busting into "I Wanna Rock."

He works in a Sunset Strip dive bar that's under the threat of being closed by a mayor working in league with a big-time developer - cue "We Built This City." (When a character mentions trying to take the club by eminent domain, the New London audience oohed, as if a moustache-twirling villain had skulked out onstage.)

Drew falls for waitress Sherrie, who just trundled into Hollywood from Kansas with hopes of becoming an actress. (Considering her name, they make us wait a surprising long time to break out a chorus or two of "Oh Sherrie.") Drew and Sherrie's road to romance, though, is theatrically rocky.

What luck that Phoenix Entertainment found the perfect actor to play Drew. Dominique Scott projects a sweetness in Drew's scenes with Sherrie, and he can blow the roof off the joint when he sings. He hits stratospheric notes on "I Wanna Rock," and he gets an emotional cry in his voice for "Waiting for a Girl Like You."

He and Shannon Mullen, as the fresh-faced Sherrie, make an endearing couple that are easy to root for. While Scott can rule those big, bombastic numbers, Mullen is at her best on quieter, sweeter moments, like those in "More Than Words."

Of course, someone has to come between Drew and Sherrie, and that someone is the strutting Stacee Jaxx. Joshua Hobbs has a blast playing this grandly dissolute rocker, and why shouldn't he? Jaxx is a rock god gone bad. He's puffed up with a powerful self-absorption. Hobbs infuses it all with just the right humor.

Jaxx's look is era-perfect, from his overprocessed blond hair to his glittery shirt, which he's always lifting to display his six-pack. It's indicative of the amusing costumes and hair/make-up creativity here that, like the set, have a campy funkiness to them.

Among the other cast standouts: Kadejah One, a powerhouse who brings to an irresistible R&B fire to "Shadows of the Night" and "Any Way You Want It," and Tanner Hussar, a flat-out riot as the flamboyant son of that aforementioned big-time developer.

By the way, if you sat through the movie version of "Rock of Ages": first of all, my apologies, and second of all, don't think that it's any reflection on the stage version. Yes, the film was humorless and joyless. But "Rock of Ages" onstage is the opposite. Which is part of the reason that the 2009 Broadway show is still running and that this tour drew a standing ovation Sunday at the Garde.

k.dorsey@theday.com

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