The hair-metal jukebox musical "Rock of Ages" was born about a mile from its mythicalized Sunset Strip setting, at what writer Chris D'Arienzo calls "the actor's Coffee Bean" at the intersection of Sunset and Fairfax.
That's where he first met with director Kristin Hanggi in 2004, armed with a stack of vintage 1980s CDs and an outline for a smirky script that promised to turn the likes of Poison and Whitesnake into ersatz show tunes.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, April 05, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
"Rock of Ages": An article in today's Arts & Music section about the 1980s Sunset Strip-themed musical "Rock of Ages" at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre says that the show is opening April 17; it opens Tuesday. It also calls the show's choreographer Kelly Bishop. Her name is Kelly Devine.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
"Rock of Ages": An article in Sunday's Arts & Books section about the 1980s Sunset Strip-themed musical "Rock of Ages" mentioned an adaptation of "Dear Dumb Dairy" for Jerry Zucker. The title is "Dear Dumb Diary."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, April 12, 2009 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
"Rock of Ages": An article last Sunday about the 1980s Sunset Strip-themed musical "Rock of Ages" at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre said that the show was opening April 17; it opened Tuesday. It also called the show's choreographer Kelly Bishop. Her name is Kelly Devine. Finally, it mentioned an adaptation of "Dear Dumb Dairy" for Jerry Zucker. The title is "Dear Dumb Diary."
Even then, according to Hanggi, their sights were set -- half-seriously, at least -- on an entertainment district several more miles away. And, unlikely as it may seem, Broadway is exactly where "Rock of Ages" has finally landed. The show will open April 17 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, pole-dances, power chords and all.
"Chris and I have joked about taking this to Broadway from Day One, and no one would believe us," said Hanggi recently between rehearsals in New York, where the show recently completed a three-month off-Broadway run. "I think there was always a thought that maybe we would take this to Las Vegas or it would be a touring show."
Indeed, the show did bow in Sin City for a week in 2006, after drawing its first fog-machine breath at the Hollywood club King King the previous year. But the musical's tone of ironic celebration cued them and the show's producers that it might be a good fit for savvy young urbanites -- in other words, for New York.
"Every time we would do a version of it, it became more and more clear that New York was the right place for it," said Hanggi, best known in L.A. theater circles for helming the angsty pop opera "bare" in 2000 and the local premiere of Terrence McNally's "Corpus Christi," both at the Hudson Theatre.
What has rolled "Rock" inexorably toward Broadway is that, while the show's Jack Black-ish irony gives the hipnoscenti a cover for enjoying it, the vein of '80s nostalgia it mines is wide and, more to the commercial point, very tourist-friendly.
"It's heartland music, without a doubt," Hanggi said. "I like to joke that it's the first straight-man musical."
D'Arienzo, 36, who was raised in rural Michigan, can attest to the ubiquity of Journey, REO Speedwagon, Def Leppard et al. in his formative years.
"Growing up in a small town and being kind of artsy, I fought this music -- I tried to listen to Elvis Costello, the Smiths, the Cure," recalls D'Arienzo, a writer/musician who toured with Trainwreck, a Tenacious D offshoot, and who recently directed his first feature film, "Barry Munday." "But I've realized that the stuff I was trying not to listen to was the real soundtrack of the town I grew up in."
Hanggi, 31, whose own musical tastes run toward mellower acts such as James Taylor and Belle & Sebastian, has a similar recollection.
"Everyone had this music in the background somewhere -- at their high school dance or as a soundtrack to their first kiss, and you kind of forget that until you hear it, and then you go, 'Oh my goodness, I remember that moment of my life,' " Hanggi says. "You don't even realize how much you know these songs."
Of course, what producers are banking on is an audience that does know this material as devotedly as Python fans knew "Spamalot."
Judging from a recent preview -- where a roving wait staff kept a genial crowd of late boomers and Gen-Xers supplied with drinks, and concert-style lighters were held high for about half the songs -- their odds look good.
Critics may be less likely to give the show two horns up, though reviews of the off-Broadway run ranged from merely mildly appalled to pleasantly surprised, with Variety's Mark Blankenship memorably quipping: "Really, 'Rock of Ages' should suck. . . . And yet, somewhere between the Styx dance break and the Twisted Sister reprise, this jukebox tuner transcends its hoary parts to become a legitimate artistic achievement."
That's not something you expect to hear about a show with a flimsy save-the-clubhouse plot, headlined by an "American Idol" star (Constantine Maroulis, as an aspiring rocker/bar-back at Hollywood's "Bourbon Room").
It may simply be a case of having the right team in place: All the show's main creative players, including choreographer Kelly Bishop, hail not from New York's legit stage but from the creative/commercial crucible of Los Angeles, the town that launched a thousand spandex-clad, fist-pumping rock battleships
"The difference between growing up as a professional dancer in L.A., as opposed to growing up in New York, is that musicals just weren't being developed as much," recalled Bishop, who assisted choreographer Sergio Trujillo on the gold-plated jukebox musical "Jersey Boys." "Most of the work in L.A. is film, music videos, commercials and live performances. That kind of background has given me a more well-rounded edge for a show like this."