HOLLYWOOD — It was the typical Hollywood club scene at the Vanguard on Saturday as supermodels gushed over Warrant’s Jani Lane; Debbie Gibson and C.C. DeVille joked about rumors they were wed; and Don Dokken and Jack Blades posed for the paparazzi.
Typical, of course, if it were the ’80s. Which was perfect, since the top shelf of “Where are they now?” talent was on hand for the premiere of “Rock of Ages,” a musical set on the Sunset Strip in 1986.
“This is incredible,” said guitarist Tommy Shaw of Styx, whose “Renegade” is one of several dozen hair-metal songs featured in the production. “Our music has somehow survived everything we’ve ever done. It’s become part of the public fabric. For them to be using it in a musical, it’s surreal to me. I’ve seen this happen over time with other music, but it’s a first for me. All of our fans have grown up and they’ve gotten into positions where they can do something like this.”
“Rock of Ages” is the brainchild of exactly that: metal fans like director Kristin Hanggi (“Pussycat Dolls: Live at the Roxy”), writer Chris D’Arienzo (“Barry Munday”), co-producer Marcos Siega (a music video director) and co-executive producer Janet Billig Rich (Nirvana’s former manager).
“The appeal [in making the musical] is totally how much fun it is,” said Laura Bell Bundy, the Broadway veteran (“Wicked,” “Hairspray”) who stars as Sherrie Christian, a Midwestern girl who comes to Hollywood to become an actress, only to get used by a metal god and end up working as a stripper. “Everything was all about looking good, being glamorous and like having long hair and rocking hard. And this show, it really stays true to the era. And in a way it kind of lets you make fun of it, but in a way of loving it and respecting it at the same time.”
Like Metal Skool, the hair-metal tribute band that’s been playing the Strip for the past five years, “Rock of Ages” honors the era but pokes fun just the same.
“It should [poke fun]!” DeVille said. “Listen, if you look back, I was always winkin’ at the audience. In other words, I knew that to be cool, to wear makeup, you’d have to like, not shave. I mean, it was always an inside joke.”
“Every generation has its goofy guys,” Night Ranger singer Blades added. “So what does it matter? If you can’t laugh at yourself or with yourself, then what do you care?”
Dokken, on the other hand, was a little worried as he walked into the Vanguard’s doors.
“I went and checked out Metal Skool and I can understand the parody, but the movie ’Rock Star,’ I thought, ’Somebody got a lot of bad information,’ ” the Dokken singer said. “The whole thing was so fantasmically wrong. I mean, when the wives get in the limousine and they follow the tour bus and the groupies go on the tour bus — I’ve been around the world a million times and that never went down.”
There are no wives in limos in “Rock of Ages,” but there is plenty of groupie love and, well, stripper love. Bundy’s strip club scenes even extend into the audience, one of many ways the show involves the crowd (for example, lighters are handed out at the door for ballads).
“The music involved the audience when it was happening, so the whole idea is you have to involve the audience now,” explained former “Singled Out” host Chris Hardwick, who plays Stacee Jaxx, the rock god who returns to club Rock of Ages for its final show before being bought out by a German conglomerate.
Along with Bundy and Hardwick, “Rock of Ages” also stars another familiar face: Kyle Gass from Tenacious D.
“I play the club owner, Dennis Dupree, a very benevolent, kind owner, so it’s obviously not like real life, because most of ’em, let’s face it, are a little dicier,” Gass said. “[Rock] is my favorite music, and although the hair-metal music of the ’80s might not be my very favorite, the way we use it in the show is pretty fun.”
In one of the musical’s most memorable scenes, Gass shares a heartbreaking duet of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” with his trusty soundman, played by Dan Finnerty of the Dan Band (famous for his rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in “Old School”).
“I didn’t [know him before], so I immediately didn’t like him at first … but he’s really funny,” Gass said. “We’ve become pretty good pals.”
Along with a flock of ’80s rockers, Saturday’s premiere also brought out Perry Farrell and Tom Morello and actors like Dax Shepard, Michael Rosenbaum and Mark Ruffalo. It was the blasts from the past, however, that had the red carpet buzzing. (“Oh my God! Is that Toni Basil?”)
“I think pop and theater have now almost melded in a way, because you want songs that you leave a theater humming, and I think the ’80s was the decade of catchy songs, so it makes perfect sense to me,” said Deborah (formerly Debbie) Gibson, ’80s-pop-star-turned-Broadway-actress. “I’m only offended they didn’t ask for one of my songs.”
“Rock of Ages” continues at the Vanguard Theatre through February 18, with shows Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 7 p.m. Producers expect the show to move to Las Vegas in the spring.