The creators of the musical Rock of Ages know that the 1980s were a decade of big hair, spandex and metal studs, but above all, it boasted music that celebrated the joy of wretched excess.
In these darker days, audience members who were sentient at the time ”even those that weren’t”’are enthusiastically wallowing in nostalgia for an unapologetically self-centered era without limits.
That willing surrender will likely play out once again as the Broadway Across America tour visits the Broward Center for the Performing Arts from Dec. 28 to Jan. 9.
‘There are times that people get into the show a little too much,’ joked MiG Ayesa, who plays Stacee Jaxx, frontman for a rock group.
‘We love that people get up and dance, and they get up and sing. But getting up on stage is not such a good idea. If you want to get into show business, get an agent.’
Ayesa has been with the tour since its September kickoff when American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis left his Tony-nominated role in the still-running Broadway version to headline this edition.
As a 40-year-old veteran rock musician and performer in rock musicals, Ayesa grew up on this score cobbled together from Journey, Whitesnake, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar and Foreigner.
‘My first kiss ever was at a school dance in Sydney (Australia) to the soundtrack of Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore, although in the show it’s sung by two men to each other.
That’s indicative of the show’s attitude. ‘It doesn’t take itself seriously. You’ve got to go in there and treat the characters with integrity, but the whole premise is this is a world where everything is huge and over the top. This is the most fun I have had in any show.’
That echoes the era itself, he said on the phone while walking to a Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up a present for his wife on a two-week break in New York City.
‘The music is timeless. You’re talking about songs from when rock ‘n’ roll reached its pinnacle, before the grim reality of the grunge era and the Wall Street crash. Excess. More is more.
‘Things could not get any bigger. Guitar solos were ending with explosions. The synth sounds filled up their airwaves. People were making videos for a million dollars. They were blocking out six months in a studio to make an album.’
The show does have a tongue-in-cheek plot: In 1987 on the Sunset Strip, a small-town girl from Kansas is torn between a busboy with dreams of being a star (Maroulis) and an established front man (Ayesa) whose band plans to breakup on the last night before the club is shut down for redevelopment.
While the musical is designed to appeal to a wider demographic than it would seem, parents are advised to keep children under 14 at home. ‘It’s a bit risqu’. There’s some pole-dancing. We don’t want to upset people,’ Ayesa said.
But Ayesa knows the keystone is the tunes. ‘The music is timeless. If you take out the theatrics, if you just see it without the spandex, these guys could really play and really sing. These songs were so beautifully crafted.’
Ayesa (born Miguel Alfonso Ramon Legarda Ayesa in the Philippines) remembers the music well even though he was barely a teenager at the time in Australia. ‘I was into everything from rock to show bands to the new romantic to the pop stuff. I spent all my money on music.”
Over the years he has shuttled between fronting his own rock bands to playing roles in everything from Rent to Burn the Floor. That last show brought him on tour to West Palm Beach earlier this year. He was in Broward County in November, when he sang The Star Spangled Banner at the naming ceremony of the cruise ship’Allure of the Seas at Port Everglades.
He’s looking forward to coming back this month.’ Just don’t climb up on stage.
Rock of Ages plays Dec. 28-Jan. 9 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale. Performances 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Dec. 31, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday Jan. 5. Tickets are $25-65, available at broadwayacrossamerica.com or browardcenter.org; by phone 954-462-0222
Also see the show’s website at rockofagesmusical.com/