We traveled to Munich a day early to get some glamor and get in the mood for the heavily sentimental sleaze musical “Rock of Ages”, which is celebrating its German premiere here. Its OK! If once upon a time there was a German city that breathed some of the slovenly spirit of the Sunset Strip, it was Bavarian Los Angeles.
And we’re lucky, the stars are aligned on Hollywood Boulevard. Already in the afternoon in the Frauenkirche a Catholic student is riding the house organ as if he were John Lord himself. It’s Holy Week and the Crucified is covered with a pink blanket so he doesn’t have to see it. But things get even better. After eating at the Augustiner Bräu (bar and grill!) on the way back to the hotel, we overhear two women gossiping. “The show is called ‘Rock of Ages’, and then they only play Journey.” When asked, it turns out that they belong to the service staff at the Deutsches Theater and have obviously experienced the musical eighties, even if they may not be anymore can remember and are not quite as impressed by the rehearsals. “But still have fun tomorrow!” And now something like anticipation is slowly building up.
The inner courtyard of the theater is already full half an hour beforehand. Long lines form in front of the service counters in the lobby. But the theater management has taken precautions and set up another drinks booth outside. One expects a beer-drinking audience and is not at all mistaken. It’s the expected heterogeneous auditorium that you also find at every AC/DC concert or at Wacken Open Air.
The gray backs in band shirts, now with short, sparse hair or no hair at all, form the hard core. Next to them, often in partnership with them, are former rock ladies who have fared better. Sometimes they brought their children with them, who actually listen more to hip hop, but are happy when the oldies get this soulful look. The usual event audience, which is everywhere you have to be, also shows up, and even the odd metalhead. You just don’t see cowls. After all, we are not in the mud hole in front of the festival stage, but in the Deutsches Theater.
After productions in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Chris D’Arienzo’s musical “Rock of Ages” finally landed on Broadway in 2009, where it blossomed into one of the most successful music theater pieces in Broadway history with well over 2000 shows. A Hollywood film adaptation with an all-star cast (Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin) was also part of the ever-expanding exploitation chain, as was the show’s export to South America, England, Canada, Iceland and Poland. Now it’s Germany’s turn. Munich, Bremen, Berlin, Nuremberg, Bochum, Cologne, Hamburg and so on.
The story is about as relevant as the lyrics in any 80’s hair metal song. The legendary live club Bourbon Room, “the last place people are allowed to dream” as Lonny Barnett (Timothy Roller), the “sound god” and narrator, wants us to believe, is in danger. Swiss investors, originally Germans, want to buy up and gentrify the entire Sunset Strip.
Against this background, the love story between Drew, the future rocker, who works as an errand boy in the club, and Sherrie, the pretty country girl from Kansas, who naturally wants to be in film and ends up in the strip bar, takes place. The dancers hold up a sign for Paderborn during their performance. This is just one of many little jokes and Brechtian V-effects that make “Rock of Ages” a highly ironic, self-reflective event.
The piece knows full well that it conjures up old rock clichés that should be embarrassing today, but which, at least in the appropriate age cohort, arouse nostalgic feelings. So it throws in some brute force comedy and pushes comedic overacting to ridicule the sexism and homophobia of those years as blatantly as it can.
The city planner Regina, who mobilizes popular anger against the bribed mayor so that the Sunset Strip can remain a cesspool of sin, insists that her name be pronounced “Ragina”. Stacee Jaxx, the horny rock star who seduces Sherrie and ultimately causes her to go astray, has a dirty secret: “Gangbang the Baby Llama!” And Sherrie ends up getting a role offer – from Bunga Films.
“Rock of Ages” can’t be faulted much, then, exposing the rock ’80s for what I’m sure they were – a grotesque Dicks event. But in the end the ethics committee, and that too is of course a calculation, made the calculation without the stars of the evening – these absurd, completely stupid, sublime instincts, grandiose AOR howlers from Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Joan Jett, Whitesnake , Survivor, REO Speedwagon and yes, Journey, too, which you could never get out of your head after the second repetition of the chorus.
And already a large part of the audience puts the irony aside and wallows in the well-tempered, creamy nostalgia sauce without pangs of conscience. After all, it’s our youth, we only have it, and we won’t let it get mad so easily with a few bad jokes.
But the music is also so convincing because the band staged it very unironically, namely very convincingly. Hardly a song is actually played out, it’s primarily about a suggestive collage of quotes. How they blend “Cum on Feel the Noize” (Slade or Quite Riot), “Just Like Paradise” (David Lee Roth) and “Nothinʼ But a Goodtime” (Poison) right at the beginning into a big medley, how they have flowing transitions create, but also make hard cuts for the corresponding dialogue passages, in order to then let it bang again with a recapitulation, this is not only effectively arranged, but just as confidently implemented. And lead guitarist Patrick Sühl, dressed in striped stretch pants, can occasionally even mix in with the dancers for a classic heroic solo.
But “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”: Drew (Felix Freund) and Sherrie (Julia Taschler) are a bit weak on the chest, especially in the harder subject, they need the large choir, which regularly joins the chorus and pumps it up to larger than life, more urgently than Sascha Lien, who equips his cliché rocker Stacee Jaxx with a credible shouter throat, which comes quite close to the original in Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”.
At the end, the narrator Lonny explains to the distraught Drew, who thinks he has finally lost Sherrie, that everything had to happen the same way because he is the main character in a musical. Luckily, the screenwriter intended the two of them to have a happy ending – they get together, move away from Hollywood and start a family. So that’s what it all comes down to again.
But precisely when it comes to the greatest of all illusions, “Rock of Ages” actually refrains from any distancing and ironic wink. So that the mothers and fathers can go home with the good feeling of not having screwed up completely after all. The final applause is correspondingly frenetic.
Back out on the pre-Easter avenues at Stachus, a ragged street musician strikes a pose and plays a melancholy acoustic version of “Rock You Like Hurricane,” which does the Scorpions from Hanover great credit. “Does it look like we’re from Lower Saxony?” my companion asks. “My God, is that evocative – I think I’ll throw up in a moment,” Robert Gernhardt once wrote.
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