'Rock of Ages' comes to the Hippodrome

By conservative estimate, the 1980s have been hanging around for 30 years, though it feels much, much longer.

Sure, the World War II era was hot for a while. And more recently, a revival of fashion from the early 1960s caused a stir. But for reasons that remain mysterious to those who lived through that era, the Me Decade has stubbornly refused to go out of style.

For evidence, skeptics need look no farther than the Baltimore Museum of Art's current exhibit, " Andy Warhol: the Last Decade," which covers the years leading up to the artist's death in 1987. Or they can consider the unlikely success of the sleeper hit musical, "Rock of Ages," which comes to the Hippodrome at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, big hair, acid-washed jeans and all.

"People have been saying that the '80s are hot for at least the past 10 years," said Constantine Maroulis, the former "American Idol" contestant who plays the lead role of a sweet-natured rock star wannabe.

"Sure, the 1980s had over-the-top makeup, videos and imagery, and sure, people are referencing it now in an ironic way. But at the end of the day, these are all great songs that have stood the test of time."

"Rock of Ages" is the jukebox musical that takes its name from an 18th-century hymn (and later Def Leppard song) and that began life in a Los Angeles rock club. The show eventually moved to an intimate off-Broadway theater, and finally, in April 2009, to the Great White Way. Not only is the musical still running strong more than 18 months later, a movie version starring Taylor Swift (and possibly featuring a singing Tom Cruise) is expected to begin production in January.

The plot, which is set on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in 1987, is as frothy and lathered as hair mousse. Maroulis' rocker, named Drew, falls in love with small-town Sherrie, and their story is told through the music of such '80s glam bands as REO Speedwagon, Styx, Bon Jovi and Foreigner.

(Parents are advised that the show features frequent expletives, explicit dancing and partial disrobing, and may not be appropriate for teens younger than 14.)

The show's creative team had Maroulis in mind to play Drew from the beginning. It's easy to see why — and for reasons other than the singer's trademark mane. (He is one of the few cast members who doesn't wear a wig on stage.)

The 35-year-old Maroulis really is a Boy Scout at heart. For the past two summers, he has performed at the annual Greek Folk Festival in Baltimore, thrown by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, where he sang '80s hits on an acoustic guitar and posed for photos with fans. He does the same at other Greek festivals around the country.

"I've been to Baltimore a ton of times," he said. "I enjoy the architecture, the rowhouses. And Camden Yards is a beautiful stadium."

What's more, Maroulis made the unusual career decision to give up his steady gig on Broadway, where his portrayal earned him a Tony nomination for best actor, in favor of the rigors of performing in a touring production.

"I've already gotten every rave review and accolade I could possibly muster on Broadway," Maroulis said. "I thought it was time to engage those fans who might not get to New York, and fans of 'American Idol' who haven't seen me for a time. I love the cast that we've put together for the road, and I look forward to going to work every night."

Maroulis always has had a bit of a dual nature; he's part Broadway showman and part rock star. His formal training was at the Boston Conservatory, and he has performed nationally in such musicals as "Rent" and "the Wedding Singer." But he also was lead vocalist for the post-grunge band, Pray for the Soul of Betty, and placed sixth during "Idol's" fourth season.

In his view, each world has something to offer the other. Theater taught rock how to enhance songs with visuals and engage an audience, while rock lent musicals a badly needed hip quotient.

"When I was growing up, my theater friends and my burned-out druggie rock musician friends were very separate groups," Maroulis said. "But I always wanted to do both. I wanted to be doing shows with Bon Jovi, and I wanted to be at the Tony Awards and be nominated for best actor."

Not surprisingly, his future plans tap into both spheres. He's working on a new rock album to be released some time in 2011, and, he hopes another appearance on Broadway — perhaps in a revival of a Tennessee Williams drama, or some cutting-edge new work.

Though Maroulis said he plans to gradually ease out of "Rock of Ages," when he talks about the movie, a note of wistfulness creeps into his voice. New Line Cinema is said to be looking for a major star to portray Drew on the silver screen, and Maroulis has not yet been asked to audition.

"I think the idea of a movie is great, a natural progression for the show," he said.

"If they want to talk to me, they know where to find me. At the end of the day, maybe they'll take a turn back to the old school, and not overlook the people who made the Broadway show a success."


If you go

"Rock of Ages" will be performed Tuesday through Sunday at the Hippodrome at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets cost $57.90-$81.80. Call 410-547-7328 or go to http://www.france-merrickpac.com.

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