Disney-fied metalrock meets ‘Xanadu’ camp in the oddly gay-friendly ‘Rock of Ages’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

Broadway has become so terrified of becoming irrelevant, it has spent much of the last decade trotting out jukebox musicals that approximate other, more popular forms of entertainment. The latest result: The ear-splitting hair rock musical Rock of Ages, now at the Winspear.

For the first hour or more, Rock of Ages comes off as little more than an annoying, loud concert with trite set-ups and stereotypical characters interspersed to give it some small amount of structure upon which to hang ‘80s metal anthems like “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “Sister Christian.” By intermission, I was ready to write it off completely.

Then something unexpected happened: It got better.

Audiences have become used to campy, self-mocking musicals that poke fun at their catalogue of songs, from Mamma Mia! to Xanadu. Perhaps I was resistant to the idea that non-disco rockers would have as good a sense of humor about themselves to notice it, but Rock of Ages couldn’t be gayer if it had a score of only ABBA songs. When you can finally see the comedy for what it is (a Disney-fied version of rock, about as threatening as the Rock-N-Rollercoaster at Walt Disney World), and give it cred for welcoming a gay sensibility to a genre known for its homophobia, it becomes a hoot: Call it Rock of Fagulas. (It makes sense, too — metal rock is just drag of another kind.)

American Idol’s Constantine Maroulis is the headliner (playing a bar-back who dreams of rock superstardom), but the show is basically stolen by Patrick Lewallen as a hip-swishing, mullet-headed narrator (part Frank-N-Furter, part Zach Galifianakis) and three musical numbers: Peter Deiwick, pantingly sexy as a David Lee Roth clone, sets hearts racing with his rendition of “Wanted Dead or Alive;” two losers standing up for themselves to “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and the campy twist in “I Can’t Fight This Feeling.” By the time the finale rolls around with the now-over-used rallying anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’,” much of the bad blood from Act 1 has been washed away. It almost makes you yearn for a resurgence in Spandex and wine coolers.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2011.