“Rock of Ages,” the high-decibel ’80s extravaganza that opens a two-day run Friday in Shea’s Performing Arts Center, is about as shameless a piece of musical nostalgia as Broadway has ever offered.
Everything about the show, from its embrace of the mullet as a form of rebellious self-expression to its earnest re-enactments of everyone’s favorite and least-favorite prom songs, is about giving in to the impulse to relive the past.
That impulse has turned out to be strong among the show’s many fans, who have shelled out big bucks for its Broadway incarnation and its subsequent national tour to soak up outsized guitar riffs and gloriously appalling hairstyles.
For Shannon Mullen, a University at Buffalo graduate who has played the show’s lead female character Sherrie on the national tour for nearly 500 performances, the show’s unabashed nostalgia factor is its major draw.
“We poke fun at ourselves,” she said in a phone interview from a tour stop in Niceville, Fla. “The real star of the show is the music. It’s why people keep coming back. That’s the No. 1 thing we hear. It brings up so many memories for people because they remember either being at their prom and hearing that song happen in the ’80s, or they remember driving in their car for the first time, hearing a certain song come on the radio. So that’s really what keeps pulling people back in.”
The musical is a veritable jukebox of metal-driven earworms from the ’80s, from Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Mullen, a Rochester native who previously performed in national tours of “Legally Blonde” and “Hairspray,” said she knew from the start that she would fit right into the role of the naïve-but-quirky Sherrie.
“I’ve always been told that when I’m on stage I have that sexy ingénue type to me, but I also have the goofy, silly girl persona about myself,” Mullen said. “And that is the perfect way to describe Sherrie. She’s innocent and naïve, but the comedic timing is a huge part of this role, and she has to be able to transform throughout the musical.”
Second only to the music in “Rock of Ages” – the actual story, by everyone’s admission, ranks much farther down the scale – are the wildly eclectic hairstyles of its characters.
“They definitely pay tribute to the classic ’80s mullet. “[There’s] a lot of crimping, a lot of hair spray, a lot of teasing. You definitely see it all,” said Mullen, whose character’s hairstyle evolves from the classic Farrah Fawcett wings to a teased-out, crimp-tastic affair that looks “like your favorite Barbie doll from the ’80s.”
And though Mullen is now in her second year of a grueling tour schedule, she said her commitment to the role and her love for the show haven’t diminished a bit.
“I’m almost at 500 performances and there’s a reason for that,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t love doing this role and the show as much as I do.”
WHAT: “Rock of Ages” // WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday // WHERE: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. // TICKETS: $27.50 to $57.50 // INFO: 847-0850 or www.sheas.org.