Thursday, 21 February 2013 03:17

South Bend Tribune

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'Ages' rocks the spandex, leather and sequins
By TOM CONWAY | South Bend Tribune Correspondent

Universo Pereira grew up playing in rock bands, and "Rock of Ages" is his national musical touring debut. Pereira figures he has given about 150 performances so far as rock star Stacee Jaxx.  "I've seen thousands of faces and, hopefully, I've rocked them all," he says, paraphrasing the lyrics from the Bon Jovi song "Wanted Dead or Alive," which he sings in the rock/jukebox musical that Broadway Theatre League presents Friday and Saturday at the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend.

The storyline for "Rock of

Ages" will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a Broadway musical, with the "boy meets girl" and "follow your dreams" narratives entertaining audiences for decades. But, instead of traditional show tunes, "Rock of Ages" features classic rock hits from the 1980s, particularly from the hair metal bands of the decade. So instead of "boy meets girl," we have "a city boy born and raised in South Detroit" meeting "a small-town girl living in a lonely world" in a "midnight train going anywhere." And "follow your dreams" becomes, well, "Don't Stop Believing."

"Rock of Ages," nominated for five Tony Awards, features songs from Styx, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison and many other eminent rock bands from the 1980s. With how much power ballads and soaring anthems dominated that era, the songs fit naturally well into a Broadway musical.

A self-avowed rock music fan, Pereira is not surprised at the continued popularity of the songs from the period.
"This music is so ingrained in American culture," he says. "I think you can't help but hear these songs, whether you are a fan or not. Whether you were coming of age in the era or if you have been hearing these songs your whole life, the songs are everywhere. They are on TV and they are in movies. They are some of the most popular songs for karaoke."

Growing up in Connecticut, Pereira played a lot of the music in "Rock of Ages" in the rock bands he was in, so he decided to audition for the musical. "I saw the notice looking for a Stacee Jaxx-type character," he says. "I thought, 'I can do that.' Luckily enough, the powers-that-be thought the same, and now I am the luckiest guy on the world. I couldn't be happier." Pereira is having "nothin' but a good time" playing the over-the-top Stacee Jaxx.
"He is the quintessential bad boy," Pereira says. "He is a hot mess, train wreck. He is the lead singer of the band Arsenal, a band that got their start on the Sunset Strip and blew up to become the hair band of the era. He is about to leave the band and go solo, as a lot of these frontmen do. Sometimes, they think they are a little bigger than the band. He couldn't be more fun to play. He is a product of the era. It is spandex and it is leather. It is cowboy hats and boots and sequins and tattoos. Like I said, I'm having a blast."

Although Jaxx causes trouble for many of the characters in the musical, Pereira doesn't believe he is a bad person. "He is not the villain of 'Rock of Ages,' " he says. "Certainly, when Stacee enters the scene, he stirs it up and things aren't quite the same after Stacee Jaxx shows up." It would be easy to fall into caricature playing a role like Stacee Jaxx, but Pereira portrays him as a real human being. "I think it helps the audience to -- maybe relate isn't the right word -- but to understand who he is," Pereira says. "He is a product of his environment, in the sense that he is a pampered rock star. He is used to getting what he wants. If he doesn't get what he wants, he has a problem with that."

Pereira has seen the movie of the musical with Tom Cruise playing Stacee Jaxx, and he says the film and stage production are two different experiences. "I really enjoyed Cruise's performance, his take," Pereira says. "I think it was very Axl Rose-inspired. I thought he certainly brought a superstar persona to it. If any actor knows what it is like to be an international superstar, it is Tom Cruise." Pereira says it's daunting to be asked to compare his performance with Cruise's screen portrayal of Stacee Jaxx. "We are talking about Tom Cruise," he says. "He has done some of the classic roles of our generation. In the musical, Stacee is a bit different. He is a bit more manic, I guess. In the musical, you see a bit more insight into who he is and really where he came from. That is what I try to bring to it."

 

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