Nostalgia Reigns at Rock of Ages

Published June 7, 2012

ABOVE: DIRECTOR ADAM SHANKMAN, PADMA LAKSHMI, AND JULIANNE HOUGH AT LAST NIGHT’S ROCK OF AGES SCREENING. IMAGE COURTESY OF MARION CURTIS/STARPIX

At the outset of Wednesday night’s New York premiere, presented by The Venetian, Las Vegas and The Peggy Siegal Company, of Warner Bros.’ Broadway show-cum-movie musical Rock of Ages, director Adam Shankman implored attendees to sing along, dance in the aisles, and—with apologies to the Landmark Theaters Sunshine Cinema staff—rip their seats from the floor and hurl them at the screen, should they feel so moved. The request may have been tongue-in-cheek, but one could hardly have been blamed for following through after watching the picture’s biggest star, a tattooed, rejuvenated Tom Cruise, tear apart dressing rooms, music-studio offices, and—perhaps most satisfyingly­—audience (and co-star) expectations, throughout the film’s two-plus hours’ duration.

“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to expect. None of us did,” Shankman told us on the red carpet. The charismatic director and choreographer has a knack for pulling inspiring performances out of unlikely actors—he famously cast a cross-dressing John Travolta as the obese mother Edna Turnblad in 2007’s Hairspray—but he noted that Cruise needed little prodding to take on Rock of Ages‘ enigmatic, Axl Rose-like rocker Stacee Jaxx. “It was sort of his idea,” Shankman said. “He had said to me earlier that he wanted to do a musical. So when this opportunity came up, I was like, ‘Let’s see if he can put his money where his mouth is.’ And here he is.”

Cruise was notably absent from last night’s screening, but taking the spotlight in his place was co-star and Interview subject, Julianne Hough, who plays the film’s ebullient “small-town girl” (you can see where this is going) and aspiring singer, Sherrie Christian. Drawn in by the bright lights of 1987 Hollywood, a fortuitous job opening at the aptly-named Bourbon Room—no doubt modeled after real-life Sunset Strip mainstay, the Whisky A Go-Go—and the potential of romance with barback-by-day, musician-by-night Drew (Diego Boneta), Oklahoma girl Sherrie seems the perfect vehicle for the Utah-born Hough. But while Sherrie trades her wares belting monster ballads, country singer Hough tells us she tends toward lighter fare. “Recently, Octavia Spencer and I got up and sang Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ at karaoke,” she said. “It was full-on tears, bawling.”

Joining Hough at the after-party at Sons of Essex were a trio of venerable rockers in Sean Lennon, Foreigner founding member Mick Jones (whose songs “Juke Box Hero,” “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” all figure prominently into the film), and Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas. Though Thomas’ band formed about a decade too late to be included in the particular brand of hair-rock nostalgia embraced by Rock of Ages, the singer-songwriter admitted to having heard his music in strange places before—just not on the silver screen. “I had a conversation with John Mayer, because we realized that when he wrote ‘Daughters’ and I wrote ‘Smooth,’ at some point we were played at every wedding. I was played at the reception and he was played at the father-daughter dance.” And while that doesn’t sound like the most rock-‘n’-roll fate for a guy who fronts a rock band, Thomas is taking it all in stride. ” It wasn’t what we had in mind when we started playing music, but that’s where we are.”

FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM THE PREMIERE, CLICK HERE. ROCK OF AGES IS IN THEATERS FRIDAY, JUNE 15.