There's been a lot of talk lately about stage musicals being better than their film adaptations.
It's true. The stage musical "Rock of Ages," playing through Sunday at Sacramento's Community Center Theater, surpasses the 2012 movie version starring Tom Cruise. (The verdict on "Les Misérables" will wait until the stage show arrives in May in Sacramento.)
The touring version of "Rock of Ages" lacks Cruise's magnetic, sinuous star turn as rocker Stacee Jaxx. The show's Stacee is lent an androgynous charisma by actor Universo Pereira, but the character is too sketchily drawn to make a significant impact.
However, Cruise was just about all the movie version had going for it. "Rock of Ages" on stage, by contrast, features lively dance numbers, setting-appropriate bawdiness (toned down in the movie) and the visceral thrill of screaming guitar solos played by a live band on stage for the show's duration.
A jukebox musical based on the songs of such legendary Broadway composing teams as Poison and Whitesnake, "Rock of Ages" celebrates the whiskey-soaked debauchery of rock clubs on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in the 1980s.
The actors from the national touring company of "Rock of Ages," which has been on Broadway since 2009, hit most of their musical notes Tuesday, the show's opening night in Sacramento. That's a feat. Rockers in the 1980s could scream on key. We're talking Steve Perry and Pat Benatar pipes.
We are not, unfortunately, sadly, talking about the pipes of Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, an '80s band you can still feel good about loving in 2013. The band behind the song "Rock of Ages" did not allow its music to be used in the show.
But perennials Journey, Foreigner, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi and Benatar did allow use of their music, as did pan-flashers Mr. Big, Extreme, Asia and Europe. So if continent bands are your jam, rock on. The big "Rock of Ages" bus has room for everybody, as long as you are OK with sexual innuendo, scatological jokes and decibel levels that occasionally reach rock-concert heights.
The sound bothers only occasionally. Mostly, it excites to be in the classy Community Center Theatre and consider reaching for ear plugs, as if you are at Ace of Spades.
Nearly as exciting is Justin Colombo, a raunchy delight as Lonny, sound man at the Strip's dingy, storied Bourbon Room, the setting of "Rock of Ages." Lonny is also the show's fourth-wall-breaking narrator.
You get the feeling Lonny, with his mullet and too-tight T-shirts emblazoned with off-color slogans, was written as buffoonish. But Colombo is too vibrant for that. The mullet looks great on him, and he shows agility in dance numbers despite a gut exaggerated by painted-on jeans.
He's the bird-flipping, tongue-thrusting embodiment of the rock spirit, the one that is kind of dirty and has had too many Miller High Lifes. Your eyes land on Colombo even when he is in shadow and other actors are in the spotlight.
Lonny is the vehicle for the appealing self-awareness displayed by "Rock of Ages." Early in the first act, he exits the make-believe of the show's scruffy rock-club set to address the audience, informing us that "Rock of Ages" will contain a love story, because musicals require one.
The subsequent tale of aspiring rocker Drew (Danny McHugh) and starry-eyed fledgling actress Sherrie (Shannon Mullen) is as perfunctory as Lonny's introduction indicates.
Mullen shows vocal range, though her phrasing can be too Broadway-baby for rock songs. But she ingratiates herself fully as the show progresses and Sherrie is taken far out of her comfort zone.
Drew doesn't get much of a character arc, but McHugh can hold high notes so long you want to whip out a Bic. (Cellphone lights are for Michael Bolton fans).
Mullen's and McHugh's duet on Damn Yankees' inherently theatrical ballad "High Enough" plays to both their vocal strengths.
To say more about the story would give it too much credence. It exists to string together songs. "Rock of Ages" falters at times by forgetting that, and offering too much talk and not enough rawk.
But just when things start to drag, the show will introduce an eye- or ear-catching moment. Some come from actor Stephen Michael Kane, who sparkles as Franz, a young German who becomes part of the scene at the Bourbon.
Sometimes, the memorable moments simply entail young women dancing in fishnet stockings. Hey, it works. Actually, all the dancing in "Rock of Ages" works, because the choreography maintains a rock 'n' roll spontaneity. Actors dance in unison, but their limbs sometimes go slightly akimbo. That lack of uniformity keeps things dynamic.
"Rock of Ages" also ventures out musically by mashing up its '80s songs. This is effective in most instances, because some songs are too cheesy to be performed in their entirety.
But a "Shadows of the Night"/"Harden My Heart" mashup goes too far. Merging Benatar with Quarterflash (fake Benatar) is a rock 'n' roll travesty.
ROCK OF AGES
★ ★ ★
What: A jukebox rock musical, presented by Broadway Sacramento
When: 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including an intermission
Information: (916) 557-1999, www.tickets.com