If you don’t think of ’80s music as powerful stuff, think of the line “born and raised in South Detroit.”
Millions of people around the world can hear that phrase in any context and think one thought: Journey.
Specifically, Journey’s 1981 hit song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” about a boy who was, indeed, born and raised in the fictional city of South Detroit. (Is the implication that it’s even grittier than Detroit proper?) From that locale, he goes off on his own to pursue big dreams, big hair, big arena rock shows, and all the other excesses celebrated so loudly in the pop music of the 1980s.
It makes sense, then, that a musical celebrating the over-the-top theatrics and silliness of ’80s music and pop culture has a lead character who was born and raised in South Detroit. He’s a character who doesn’t, at least for the musical’s two-plus hours, stop believin’.
His name is Drew, and he and his other Spandex- and headband-wearing contemporaries will be at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Saturday in a Broadway tour production of “Rock of Ages,” presented by Portland Ovations.
So get that perm you’ve always wanted, break out your Members Only jacket and bone up on the difference between Whitesnake and Great White.
“Rock of Ages” has been attracting fans of all ages, not just old fogies who lived through the ’80s, since it was created in 2006.
Take, for example, the guy who will play Drew in Portland, actor and singer Dominique Scott. The 25-year-old was barely walking in the 1980s, and had practically no working knowledge of ’80s music before taking the role a year and a half ago. But since then, he’s formed some theories on why music of the Reagan era still thrives.
“I think the reason people still want to hear these songs 30 years later is that it’s just exciting. It’s not the most complex music in the world, but it’s fun, the kind of music that makes kids jump up and down on their beds playing air guitar,” said Scott, a native of Miami now living in New York.
“It’s just something really human to want to let go and rock out to your favorite songs. At that time, it was a big cultural thing to get all psyched up for a concert, get drunk and yell at the big power chords. People don’t let loose like that at concerts today.”
“Rock of Ages” is a Tony Award-nominated musical built around 28 of the biggest hits of the ’80s. Besides “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they include “We Built This City” by Starship, “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon and “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner.
The story is set in 1987 in Los Angeles, in the clubs of the legendary Sunset Strip, where we’re introduced to Drew. He’s paired off with Sherrie, a small-town girl. Both chase their dreams of making it big as they encounter club owners, sleazy businessmen, rock stars, groupies and wannabes.
The musical was made into a 2012 film starring Tom Cruise and Russell Brand. But the film wasn’t a big hit, and didn’t gain the sort of cult status that the stage musical has as it’s traveled from Broadway to stages all around the world.
“Rock of Ages” is in its fourth year on Broadway, where it’s been performed more than 1,500 times. The first U.S. tour of the show was launched in 2010, giving opportunities to aspiring young performers like Scott.
Scott studied musical theater and jazz piano at Syracuse University, so his path to musical fame is a little different from his character’s in “Rock of Ages.” But he did move to New York to hit it big, and he fronts his own rock band.
Because nobody today has hair as big as ’80s rock musicians, Scott has to wear a pretty significant wig to portray Drew. It took some getting used to.
“Sometimes on stage, my hair would get in my mouth and I’d have to spit it out,” said Scott.
A bigger challenge, he says, is moving around on stage in a pair of jeans that are tailored to be ’80s rock-star tight. “It’s really hard to sit down in those.”
Those who see “Rock of Ages” can expect to feel like they’re at a concert. There are 28 songs, so the music is obviously a huge part of the show.
“A show like this begs for interaction. People clap along, sing, get up in their seats with their lighters,” said Scott. “And we have a narrator who sometimes addresses the audience. It really feels like a concert.”
Even though Scott didn’t come of age during the ’80s, he can relate to the “can do” spirit of the aspiring musicians in the show. When he first auditioned for “Rock of Ages,” he didn’t get a callback. So he went home, made a YouTube video of himself, and sent it to the casting director.
That got him another shot, and he eventually got the part.
“I couldn’t accept it,” he said. “It’s a story about a 23-year-old who moves to the city to be a rock star, and that’s what I did.”
So besides enjoying a nostalgic ride back to the ’80s, anyone attending “Rock of Ages” can also glean an important lesson from Scott himself.
Because he didn’t stop believin’.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: