She’s just a smalltown girl with big-city dreams.
He’s just a down-and-out bar-back questing after rock ’n’ roll glory on the Sunset Strip.
And that other guy – the one thrusting his crotch in the general direction of anyone with a pulse and occasionally stopping to sing a high-octane ballad of irrepressible longing? Well, no one knows quite who he is or what he’s doing there.
This is “Rock of Ages,” the shock-and-awe, tongue-in-cheek ’80s nostalgia trip currently tearing up the Shea’s Performing Arts Center stage for three breathless and sex-drenched performances.
With a sound track familiar to anyone who has ever attended a prom, hormonal choreography lifted from your favorite ’80s workout video and a story that makes fun of itself and its medium at every opportunity, this is a musical drag show of epic proportions.
That will be especially true of those whose teenage or young adult years coincided with the perplexing but thoroughly listenable musical landscape of the mid-1980s. .
The creative team behind this show – surely one of the best jukebox musicals ever conceived – knew full well that a serious treatment of the era would have been a genuine mistake. So book writer Chris D’Arienzo, choreographer Kelly Devine (whose work is re-created here by Marcos Santana) and director Kristin Hanggi went for an all-out lampoon.
The show is based, as we are winkingly informed by our constant and constantly funny narrator Lonny (the phenomenally funny Justin Colombo), on the standard trope of naïve strivers after some version or other of the American dream. They are the comically bright-eyed Sherrie (played with peppy perfection by University at Buffalo grad Shannon Mullen) and the equally doe-eyed Drew (played in this performance by the affecting Dominique Scott).
These two babes in the woods receive a rude awakening on their glitter-strewn and hair-sprayed path to success, notably in the form of rock god Stacee Jax (Universo Peirera, pitch-perfect in both his cheeky egomania and his vocal performances).
Aside from the thoroughly engaging and almost constant comedy routine delivered by Colombo, a guy who could give lessons in mugging to Jack Black, the point of this show is the performances.
And they are glorious.
They range from the highly caffeinated act-one closer of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” to a completely unexpected and absurd delivery of Pat Benatar’s enduring “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” delivered by an effete young German man in glitter-caked spandex played by the gloriously campy Stephen Michael Kane. You have to be there to get the full effect.
As Sherrie, Shannn Mullen does UB and Buffalo proud with her sassy embrace of the character, especially on “Waiting for a Girl (Boy) Like You” and “Any Way You Want It.”
This show, which runs twice more today at 2 and 8 p.m., in almost every way outstrips the film that was adapted from it.
“Rock of Ages, is exactly the love letter the crazy ’80s deserve.