Uncovering The Secrets Behind Broadway’s Bad Boy Hit ‘Rock of Ages’

Every rose has its thorn, every town has its rebel, and when it comes to the Great White Way, Rock of Ages is it. Flanked with a panties-covered set, a cast with amazingly toned abs, and a score full of the best ‘80s songs, this powerhouse Broadway musical defies the conventional stay-in-your-seat theatergoing experience, and transforms it into a sex-soaked rock concert that melds sincerity with parody; beer and shots are proffered in the aisles, rock posters dress the walls, and audience revelry is encouraged and inevitable. This bad boy breaks the rules, and it’s working; in its fourth year, Rock of Ages is selling better than ever. This month, it served its one-millionth customer, and has consistently been one of Broadway’s top 10 most-attended shows this year.

Of course, there are questions: How? Why? What is its mystical secret?

I sat down with two stars of the show to try to unlock these very questions: Jeremy Woodard – who plays Stacee Jaxx, the near-washed up, wild rock star – and Justin Matthew Sargent, who plays Drew, the aspiring rock star.

Apart from the music, what do you think people love about this show?
Jeremy Woodard: There’s something nostalgic about the ‘80s. Seeing as the economy is where it’s at, this show lets you just kick back and enjoy. There’s no drama – everything is said in jest. And when things are bad out there, you need to laugh a lot.
Justin Matthew Sargent: The story, too. It’s not your usual rags-to-riches tale. The characters start with a dream, until they realize the reality of it and that it’s not the kind of life they want to lead. They reevaluate and find new dreams in it all.
JW: The show doesn’t take itself too seriously. At all.

Unlike other jukebox musicals that stick to just one band’s music, Rock of Ages features the songs from a bunch of different ‘80s artists – Poison, Twisted Sister, Journey –  attracting all the fans that come with them. That’s a pretty brilliant, commercial concept.
JMS: Oh, totally.The fans go nuts for this show. It’s all built-in. And even though it’s ‘80s rock music and a niche kind of thing, you have a lot of versatility – you’ve got your power ballads, your songs that kick ass, sweet songs like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” There are so many different genres that make up ‘80s rock. And the coolest thing is when the people from those bands come to see the show.

What rock stars have been in the audience?
JMS: We’ve had Journey come to see the show, Phil Collins. We had Dee Snider in the show for a little while, and he’s just the nicest. I was such a big fan of his before we worked with him, and still am.

Jeremy, since you play Stacee Jaxx, the magnetic, women-obsessed rocker, do you receive any crazy emails, dirty underwear, etc. from fans?
JW: Thankfully, no dirty underwear. When I had Facebook, I used to get crazy messages that crossed the line, so I bowed out. There hasn’t been anyone that’s been scary. We sometimes get weird letters, but the girls get stuff more than we do.
JMS: Fans make us food all the time though – lots of cookies. They’ve also made real dolls out of us.
JW: Early on, our original Stacee – James Carpinello – had a lady come out and ask him to sign her shoulder as Stacee Jaxx, and then she got it tattooed afterward. She still comes around every now and then. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

What a souvenir. I’ve heard there are fans that have seen this show over 250 times.
JW: Oh yeah. I ask people sometimes how they can afford to see it that often. I like Krispy Kreme, but I don’t think I can eat that many donuts.

Rock of Ages

My $500 Blind Date For Charity

Last night I went on a blind date that Steve Lewis put together. By put together, I mean he came up with the awesome idea of entering me, his editor, into an auction benefitting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and plotting and writing about the date and highest bidder in his column. The moment he declared this to the world in a post, my stock instantly went up 500 points which, in the high-stakes bidding world means $500.

So last night, the moment finally arrived when I would meet my generous suitor: Craig Clemens, a worldly, smart, modest guy who, quite shockingly, was not a serial killer. I was thrilled. The place: the Helen Hayes Theatre to see Rock of Ages, the ‘80s rock Broadway musical full of sex and yelling and beer and amazingly toned abs. We had a ball, talked during intermission about our life’s pursuits, and hopped in a Uber ride that arrived the moment the grand finale of “Don’t Stop Believing” came to its end.

Our next destination: Hotel Chantelle, where Craig finally met Steve Lewis. Despite my deep love for and closeness to Steve, I will forever refer to him as the full “Steve Lewis,” because he is a man deserving of a grand title and everything good in the world. Craig and Steve hit it off over a bottle of delicious Beau Joie Champagne which only I drank because 1. Craig is on his annual 30-day cleanse, God help him and 2. Steve gets drunk from three sips and this is a fact. So I got tipsy pretty quickly, which happened at the perfect time for a female knife swallower – one of the acts at Hotel Chantelle’s beloved The Love Show, a variety/burlesque show full of over-talented performers – to take to the stage and ask for an assistant. But being the business-savvy, considerate NY woman she is, she’d only hand over the position to the person who would hand over the most amount of money to donate toward the Hurricane Sandy relief. So Steve and Craig pitched in, Craig walked up to the woman, handed her the money, and pointed directly at me, the alleged “benefactor.”

So she lead me up on stage and did the requisite “What’s your name? Say it into the mic” routine, all while Steve Lewis yelled from the black, “THEY’RE ON A BLIND DATE THEY’RE ON A BLIND DATE.” Within three minutes, she had an entire 12-inch knife down her throat and me pulling it out of her. I credit Beau Joie for this hyperventilation-free moment.

After this, Steve Lewis started DJing some tunes that made the crowd go absolutely nuts, and Craig and I looked on with pride, like a mother with her child, or maybe that was just me. Craig suggested we get some food, so we left and headed to our next destination: Blue Ribbon. By 2am, we were devouring their best dishes – the bone marrow and fried chicken – alongside some spicy fish soup. The conversation very easily continued, but I can’t tell you what it was because my brain shut down after my first bite of chicken wing dipped in truffle honey sauce. Now I have lost my place.

Anyway, we walked out, I hailed a cab, and we talked about going to a party Steve Lewis is hosting at an undisclosed location next Thursday night. It involves six ballrooms. Craig and I hugged, and I was in bed by 3am, thanking Beau Joie for having no added sugar so I have a guaranteed no-headache situation today.

Yes, I did text him today and thanked him for bidding and being such a cool guy and not a serial killer. He said that while he had a blast, even Ted Bundy probably came across as cool at first, which is a good point. So the jury is still out on this one. To be decided at a later date.