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September 19, 2017

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Broadway transplant ‘Rock of Ages’ rocks the Venetian tonight


Tom Donoghue/

Cast members of “Rock of Ages” perform during the Victory Lap of 2012 NASCAR Champion’s Week on the Strip on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012.

2012 NASCAR Champion's Week: 'Rock of Ages' at Victory Lap

Cast members of Launch slideshow »

Rehearsal for 'Rock of Ages'

Rehearsal for Launch slideshow »

When the hit Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” debuts tonight at the Venetian, the cast and the producers will be happy to let you drink in the seats and dance in the aisles. They’ve even removed some front-area seats to set up bars on either side of the stage so that the audience keeps the party going during the show.

It’s all about having a fun night out. It’s a party from start to … except the producers don’t want it to finish. It will continue from the showroom to the nearby Bourbon Room, where 1980s rockers and dancers welcome the cast to hang out and join in for more fun.

Two actors have been added to the Las Vegas run of the hit Broadway show that still runs on the Great White Way at the Helen Hayes Theater. The Las Vegas version comes in just under two hours without any songs being cut from the longer New York show. Instead of 600 seats in Manhattan, the former Blue Man Theater is 1,166 seats with the upstairs balcony cut off to keep the party vibe intact.

“We double the fun and still keep the party rolling,” producer Scott Zeiger of Base Entertainment told me. The musical features songs by Bon Jovi, Journey, Styx, Poison, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry and Pat Benatar. “Rock of Ages” will perform seven shows each week starting tonight.

Here’s what I wrote on Nov. 7 after flying to New York to see the show before sitting in on rehearsals when began here: Kristin Hanggi, who was nominated for a 2009 Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical in her Broadway debut with “Rock of Ages,” also directs the musical at the Venetian.

“Rock of Ages” is the only Broadway import opening this winter here. Since its premiere in 2005 in L.A. and move to Off-Broadway in 2008 and onto Broadway in March 2009, it received five Tony nominations. It had a short run at the Flamingo in May 2006 en route east. It also won rave reviews with sold-out productions in Toronto (2010) and London and Australia in 2011.

It spawned the movie version this summer with Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Las Vegas darling Julianne Hough. The live show is 100 times better than the movie; it’s far more fun because the theatrical experience makes audiences feel like they are inside the Sunset Strip’s legendary Bourbon Room.

You are shoulder-to-shoulder with the performers jockeying for music fame and fortune or seeking to rediscover it. They are dancing in the aisles, too. You’ll love the way they break the fourth wall of theater and nearly “forget” their characters to talk to the audience. In fact, it serves to remind you that you are watching musical theater and not partying in a hot Hollywood bar.

The cast’s energy is supercharged. They obviously love the songs, the wild dancing and the script, which also is being refreshed for Las Vegas. The exuberant performers can really sing, dance and play great rock music. They show their love for their jobs by performing at max power; it couldn’t get any more fun if they tried.

Scott explained the show’s amazing success: “These are the anthems of our youth that speak to our hearts. It was a nostalgic time, and these were emblematic songs of importance to a generation. The show lets people re-live that time or pretend they are back at their prom.

“Now a new generation of young kids loves these yesteryear songs from 1986. We’ve created a real party environment because with this show, there’s a lot of celebrating.”

The official opening and premiere party is set for Jan. 5.

I guarantee you’ll have more fun in one night of theater than you’ve ever experienced singing, dancing and drinking along -- and all with the blessing of cast and producers. This show is about to kick some serious party ass on the Strip.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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