Shannon Mullen, who has been a cast member with the national tour of “Rock of Ages” for about a year, says she was a little disappointed when she went to see the new movie version of the musical with Tom Cruise as strutting 1980s glam rocker Stacee Jaxx.
“His was the best performance by far in the movie, but the story got a little lost,” says Mullen, who plays small-town girl Sherrie, a waitress and wannabe singer who becomes involved with sexy, selfish Stacee at one point.
“The movie is very different because it isn’t as much fun. We have a narrator who breaks the wall with the audience and gets them involved. Every night, they end up on their feet participating in our show. The movie couldn’t do that,” she says.
“It’s one of those shows that’s not meant to be taken seriously, but we pay tribute to the 1980s rather than make fun of them. We are the ‘little show that could.’ ”
“Rock of Ages,” which opened on Broadway in 2009 and snagged five Tony Award nominations, including best musical, comes to Century II Concert Hall for three performances this week – 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday — as the second show of the season for Theater League. Tickets ranging from $35 to $65 are available through WichitaTix.
Written by Chris D’Arienzo, this jukebox musical creates a story using music from such glam/metal performers as Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe. Among the more than 30 songs given a new spin are “We Built This City,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” “Any Way You Want It” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
Mullen plays Sherrie as a wide-eyed dreamer from Oklahoma who takes a bus to Los Angeles to be a songwriter, but who gets a shot at being a singer while waitressing in a legendary rock ‘n’ roll club called The Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip. Sherrie has romantic feelings for fellow waiter and would-be rocker, Drew, but she is swept off her feet by the dazzling, dissipated worldliness of rocker Jaxx during a gig at the club and experiences both the highs and lows of showbiz.
“I love Sherrie because I can relate to her on a lot of levels. She has big dreams and she goes after them,” says Mullen, a Rochester, N.Y., native who has been on the road constantly with tours of “Hairspray,” “Legally Blonde” and now “Rock of Ages” for four years since graduating from State University of New York at Buffalo. She jokes that her career is too much of a good thing at the moment because she has been living out of a suitcase since graduation and hasn’t had a chance to move her things from her parents’ home to an apartment.
“I would describe Sherrie as innocent rather than naïve. She’s very bright but she believes the world to be simpler than it is, that if you want something, all you have to do is go get it and nobody will get in your way. The hardest battle I have in playing her is not to make her seem too naïve because that comes across as stupid and people will think she deserves what she gets,” Mullen says of the character who gets fired at one point and ends up working in a strip club to survive.
Mullen says her favorite moment in the show is a fantasy sequence seen through her waiter boyfriend’s eyes when Sherrie blossoms from a quiet wallflower sitting on a picnic blanket into a sultry seductress dancing on top of a car.
“It’s completely unexpected, and it always gets a real reaction from the audience,” Mullen says.
Playing Stacee Jaxx, the strutting peacock of a rocker who is both the best and worst thing to happen to Sherrie’s career dreams, is Universo Pereira, a rocker in his own right who is making his musical stage debut with this tour.
“I’ve been singing since I was a teen and have been a professional rocker for about 10 years,” says Pereira, a Connecticut native who has been based in Nashville with the group, Red Carpet Rats. His colorful first name, by the way, reflects the Castilian Spanish heritage of his father.
“I really wanted to broaden my career. I’ve been a singer for a long time, but I wanted to get some experience in acting and dancing,” he said. “When the opportunity came up to go into this show in August, I jumped at it. So far, it’s everything I hoped it would be – and more. The reaction from the audience is amazing. I’m lucky because my (Nashville) band mates have been so supportive. After this tour, I want to go back to my band but also occasionally do other shows. I enjoy both.”
For the movie, Tom Cruise transformed Stacee Jaxx into a star turn. In the stage musical, Stacee is more of a secondary character with a darker, sometimes harder edge.
“Stacee is a train wreck. He’s a hot mess. He’s a lead singer in a major group who is about to go solo and the tension between him and his band is evident because he believes he’s outgrown them,” Pereira says.
“Is he a bad guy? That’s debatable. He’s not particularly nice. No one would ever call him a ‘buddy.’ But he is a product of his environment. He’s gotten his way for so long he can’t imagine anything else. I’ve had my share of dealings with people like Stacee,” he says.
Pereira says he’s not patterning his performance after any particular person. “I’m taking bits and pieces from rockers like Bret Michaels and David Lee Roth and other California guys of the period. I’m spreading it around,” he says with a chuckle.