Stunt casting “Rock of Ages”?
Cherish the thought!
Broadway buffs get a little snippy when it comes to the thin line of celebrity separating “star” from “gimmick.” Ricky Martin in “Evita”? Fran Drescher and Carly Rae Jepsen in “Cinderella”? Smart box office, or keeping true talents such as Idina Menzel from being discovered?
But Joey Fatone in “Rock of Ages”? Who would stand against me when I say, “Ab-so-freakin’-lutely”?
Fatone’s guest stint through April 29 is the perfect union of an ’80s-rock jukebox musical oft-derided as a “bridge-and-tunnel show,” and the ’N Sync-er who could be the next self-parodying celebrity in the grand tradition of William Shatner or Leslie Nielsen: “They call me the FAT-ONE!” says his Twitter description.
The Broadway edition of “Rock” closed in January, leaving The Venetian with the only resident company of the musical that makes show tunes of Styx and Foreigner songs. It seems quite settled there now and appears to have found the audience it was looking for: ’80s-nostalgists who drink a lot and occasionally sing along.
Maybe two years was the time needed to get us used to Foreigner show tunes. But the cast also fine-tuned just how to play it.
The material is trickier than it seems. The audience has to agree early on that we are here to laugh at the story by Chris D’Arienzo as well as with it. Toward the end, “Our Town”-style narrator Lonny (Mark Shunock) uses one of his many audience asides to reveal he had hoped to end up in a real musical instead of peddling “poop jokes and Whitesnake songs.”
But they could go too far. Once the novelty of the costumes and song choices wears off, the second act — yes, there is an intermission, timed by a “whizz clock” — would be really tedious without any investment in the story or characters.
Hence, an 11th-hour version of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” as our down-and-out ingenue Sherrie (Becca Kotte) commiserates with the den mother of a strip joint (Celina Nightengale at this performance), who confesses her regret for losing the one honest love in her life.
Tongues come out of cheeks for a minute or two, at least until it’s time to sing along with the chorus and perhaps spark up the lighter the usher might have given you at the door.
It’s a tricky road to navigate, but original Las Vegas cast member Shunock is our ideal tour guide. One minute he’s leaping around like John Belushi, the next he’s delivering the broad laugh lines with almost understated realism.
And for those who came to rock? It helps to have a real band onstage and actors who can shift from “Broadway voices” to rock belting, sometimes within the same melodramatic anthem, such as Warrant’s “Heaven.”
In the love-story leads, John Krause has the needed touch of rock-star charisma as busboy and aspiring rocker Drew. He and Kotte both manage to project a likability in roles that are not immune from the winking humor.
Colt Prattes, who toured as a dancer with Pink, brings a new level of body-builder physicality to the key supporting character of bad-boy rocker Stacee Jaxx, even if his voice lacks the metal screech we anticipate.
And Fatone? He is stunt-casting epitomized when he walks out looking like Weird Al Yankovic gone to a Grateful Dead concert as Dennis Dupree, the owner of the Sunset Strip rock club targeted by greedy German developers.
Fatone may be overdoing it by pushing his voice into the gravelly register of a rock ’n’ roll burnout. But when he and Shunock team up for an REO Speedwagon song (just which one and why they sing it are minor spoilers), all lighters come out for the duet, which works both at face value and as a shared joke with the audience.
If Fatone’s presence implies any kind of value-add promise for the ticket, consider his end of the bargain fulfilled.
Read more by Mike Weatherford at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.