The Broadway hit “Rock of Ages” goes from stage to screen under the direction of Adam Shankman, who also executive produces the film.
“Rock of Ages,” which earned five Tony Award nominations, is still entertaining audiences on the Great White Way as well as in touring productions around the world. The show’s book was written by Chris D’Arienzo, who is also a writer and executive producer on the film.
Shankman, who grew up in Los Angeles, felt right at home in the setting. “My dad was a music business manager, and his office was on the Sunset Strip,” he says. “I knew a lot of artists. I was choreographing music videos in 1987 and it was a world that I really understood and loved, so turning back that clock was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
At the core of the film is a boy-meets-girl love story woven into classic, only-in-Hollywood dreams of fame. Shankman’s sister and producing partner, Jennifer Gibgot, elaborates, “Like so many people in L.A., the young lovers in ‘Rock of Ages’ have come here hoping to make it big and thinking it’s going to be easy. But it turns out to be a lot harder to stay on the path, to keep believing in the thing that led them there in the first place.”
The movie also shows the other side of the coin: what it was like to have achieved the fame and fortune that 1980s glam bands so thoroughly and unabashedly enjoyed. Fellow native Angelino and producer Garrett Grant, who grew up listening to that music and idolizing the artists, emphasizes, “It was important to portray the period authentically, and hit the tone as much as we could in order to truly pay homage to the rock stars—rock gods, really—of that generation.”
Playing the rock god of “Rock of Ages,” Arsenal lead singer Stacee Jaxx, is Tom Cruise. Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta portray the young couple. They are joined by an all-star cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Mary J. Blige, Malin Akerman and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
For Shankman, the journey began when he went to see “Rock of Ages” on the stage: “The audience was having the best time I’d ever seen at a show. Everybody knew the lyrics to all the songs and was out of their seats and singing along and having the time of their life. That enthusiasm, that sheer emotion, convinced me to make the movie.”
It wasn’t his only reason for revisiting the era, however. “I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make a movie musical that guys would drag their girlfriends to for a change.”
The story, about pursuing your heart’s desire, is backed by incredible songs and set on the iconic Sunset Strip, a place emblematic of the time, a place where fantasies could become reality, and did. Where a band from nowhere could perform at the Whiskey or The Roxy and wind up with a record deal.
Writer Justin Theroux enjoyed working on the screenplay for the jukebox musical, an opportunity he describes as “a totally different experience. In a weird way, you write backwards from the point of view of the song. The song is always the emotional center for the characters in any given scene, so it’s fun to try to get them to that specific destination. The song does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting for you, but you have to build ramps up and down, to and from, that centerpiece.”
Though most of the songs in the film are taken from the musical, Theroux was happy to add one that was a favorite of his growing up. “I thought ‘Jukebox Hero’ would be a great way to add more backstory to the character of Drew,” he explains. “It has such great narrative in the opening lines and really paints the picture of a teenage kid who wants to be a rock star.”
Writer Allan Loeb also took pleasure in fiddling around with the script’s musical moments. “At times there are two songs playing off each other, going back and forth between the different storylines, with a lot of intercutting, to enable the song to serve more than one set of characters,” he details. “So the challenge was to shuffle the story and the verses, while also allowing for the choreography, until everyone explodes into a mash-up of the songs’ choruses. That’s how they did it on stage and how we handled it in the screenplay, and it was great fun to write.”
Says Shankman, “What’s often the most difficult and compelling thing about a musical like ‘Rock of Ages’ is that half of a song is played as performance and the other half as dialogue or inner monologue. I think the writers did a great job of turning a terrific stage show into a real cinematic experience. I’d like to see the movie-going audiences jumping out of their seats just like the theater audience did, and I think this story and these characters and this rockin’ music, performed by our unexpected and unbelievably talented cast, just might get them on their feet.”