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Creative trio taps into the '80s sound for 'Rock of Ages'

PETER KRAMER/ASSOCIATED PRESSKristin Hanggi, Chris D'Arienzo, and Kelly Devine are the creative team behind the musical ''Rock of Ages,'' currently playing on Broadway. PETER KRAMER/ASSOCIATED PRESSKristin Hanggi, Chris D'Arienzo, and Kelly Devine are the creative team behind the musical ''Rock of Ages,'' currently playing on Broadway. (PETER KRAMER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Kristen A. Lee
Associated Press / April 10, 2009
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NEW YORK - How does a young, relatively inexperienced creative team bring a love letter to 1980s hair bands to the Broadway stage? The key, it seems, is not to take any of it too seriously.

Now at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, "Rock of Ages" is a silly, raucous jukebox musical featuring the biggest power ballads and glam rock hits of the '80s - including Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison.

On a recent afternoon before a preview performance, writer Chris D'Arienzo, director Kristin Hanggi, and choreographer Kelly Devine looked like they had been spending long hours in the theater. But it was clear during an interview filled with affectionate banter that they were relishing the pre-opening night frenzy.

The trio has shepherded the show from its first workshop during the summer of 2005 in a packed club on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, through an off-Broadway run last year to reach this moment.

Devine comes with the most Broadway experience, having served as associate choreographer of another jukebox musical - the Tony Award-winning hit "Jersey Boys." Hanggi's previous projects include the star-studded "Pussycat Dolls Live at the Roxy" in Los Angeles; "Rock of Ages" is her directorial debut on Broadway.

After signing on, she said her first priority was to find a writer who could capture the show's playful, self-aware tone.

"It really wanted to be a guys' musical," she said. "And it wanted to be funny. So I needed to find someone who was hilarious and who could tap into a really straight man's point of view to tell the story."

She found Los Angeles-based screenwriter D'Arienzo, who also came to "Rock of Ages" without Broadway credits. After talking through his ideas with Hanggi, D'Arienzo sealed the deal by making producers Matthew Weaver and Carl Levin laugh during his interview.

"I remember I was wearing like my Journey concert tee - it was sleeveless," D'Arienzo said. "And I threw my bag into the room before I walked in. I figured I had to make a rock star entrance or they wouldn't hire me."

The jukebox musical genre has had some monster hits in recent years - namely "Mamma Mia!" and "Jersey Boys" - as well as its share of major flops.

Former "American Idol" finalist Constantine Maroulis, who stars in "Rock of Ages" as a young musician dreaming of fame, credits D'Arienzo for striking the right balance between the show's music and its plot, which centers on a romance that blossoms in a rock club. "He's really crafted the material into the heart of the story so well, and I think that's what connects with people," he said.

The team was able to tap into a deep well of nostalgia among members of the generation that grew up watching long-haired rockers strut on MTV.

"I grew up in LA in the '80s in that area so it's very tangible for me," Devine said. "I really know that time."