'Idol' brings 'Rock of Ages'

It seems that this is the role he was born to play.

For "American Idol" finalist Constantine Maroulis, portraying a would-be rock star has meant critical acclaim, a Tony nomination and … unbearably freezing temperatures.

Hopefully that last part changes when the national tour of the musical "Rock of Ages" rolls into Costa Mesa next week.

"We have been freezing our fargin' butts off," Maroulis laughed, describing their last few months of touring in locations like Louisville, Minneapolis and Orlando. The show opened in the Windy City in September.

"Florida was wickedly cold," he said, using a few other choice adjectives to describe the tour's constant stream of bad weather luck.

Maroulis said the cast and crew are excited to bring the show, an unashamed, unabashed tribute to '80s pop rock, back to Southern California — where much of it is set, and where it first premiered in Hollywood in 2006.

"The show takes place on Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, so it'll be a lot of fun," Maroulis said.

'I Wanna Rock'

The show is set in the heady days of 1987 — back when Gordon Gekko first taught moviegoers that greed is good, U2's "With or Without You" was a new release, and the launch of a drug called Prozac captivated the world.

Maroulis stars as busboy Drew, "just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit," of course, who dreams of being a rock star. And just as naturally, Drew falls in love with "a small-town girl living in a lonely world" named Sherrie.

Between delving into the murky worlds of redevelopment scandals, exotic dancing and pizza delivery, the show is a raucous trip through the time of mullets, leg warmers and wine coolers, punctuated with hits like "Wanted Dead or Alive," "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" and "Waiting for a Girl Like You."

The show is considered a "jukebox musical" because its songs already were hits before being incorporated into the musical's score, as was the case for "Mamma Mia!" and "Jersey Boys."

It also draws an unexpectedly varied audience, Maroulis said.

"Ultimately, if you just sat there and dissected the audience, it's probably similar in every city," Maroulis said. "On the opening few nights there are lots of subscribers, and then a nice demographic of teenage kids who love 'American Idol' and 'Glee,' who come with their parents. Then there's lots of 30-, 40- and 50-somethings who come to hear Def Leppard, but don't get to hear it because we don't use any, which is kind of our inside joke. But they just love it, and then maybe they go on to see other Broadway shows."

(Despite the show's title, the Def Leppard song "Rock of Ages" wasn't included due to a licensing issue.)

Maroulis said that beneath all the glitter and hairspray, "Rock of Ages" has a strong message that endears itself to audiences.

"People wouldn't come to the show if they didn't see that there's a lot going on onstage," he said. "There's a great story; there's a great communication between people who really want something. There are clearly caricatures as well, but my story is an earnest boy-meets-girl love story."

Best of all, "Rock of Ages" isn't just the kind of musical that a girl would drag a husband or boyfriend to, promising a night of rock music.

"On the total opposite of that, it's the kind of show where a guy will score major points if he brings his girlfriend or his wife to it," Maroulis said — and added that those men frequently are the ones at the merchandise tables afterward, buying T-shirts and CDs.

"It's a lot of fun and it's a unique experience," he said. "I feel like they leave with something very special."

'Don't Stop Believing'

Maroulis, 35, a New Jersey native of Greek descent, was the sixth-place "American Idol" finalist in the show's fourth season. One of the first contestants to focus on rock music, he also is one of few to have gone into professional acting since their time on the reality show, and is the show's biggest Broadway success story; Maroulis earned a Tony nomination for his leading role in "Rock of Ages," which he originated before taking the show on tour.

Maroulis attributes his Broadway success to his training at the Boston Conservatory, which led to his acting apprenticeship at the Williamstown Theatre Festival; an international tour with the "RENT" musical touring company, starring as Roger; appearances in other musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar;" and film and television appearances.

Between "Idol" and "Rock of Ages," he released an eponymous album and embarked on a series of solo tours, as well as appearing in the Broadway musical "The Wedding Singer," serving as an "American Idol" expert on a Fox morning show and on Yahoo!, as well as "American Idol Extra," and briefly appearing as another, eerily similar Constantine on "The Bold and the Beautiful."

Maroulis said that despite growing up with varied musical influences, his tastes leaned more to the hair bands of the day.

"I have an older brother and sister, and they were a huge influence on me artistically and musically," Maroulis said. "They're a bit older than me, and they have distinct tastes. My brother was into pretty much everything, but he was more of an underground, goth kind of guy; he was into the New York scene, Bauhaus and Bowie and stuff, but then would also love Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. My sister was into New Wave. They thought I was super cheesy for loving Poison and Bon Jovi and stuff, but I thought those songs were really good."

Maroulis also has put out an independent record on his own label, appropriately named Sixth Place Records.

"The whole experience was amazing," he said. "I'd love to devote more time to that down the road, and it can be very profitable, but it can also be hard work. If you know you have a loyal fan base, you can do very well with modest numbers."

He also plans to continue exploring acting and musical opportunities down the road.

"I love my career, and I love the path I've taken," he said.

Maroulis said a film version of the show is in the works; A-list stars from Steve Carell to Tom Cruise to Taylor Swift have reportedly been in talks with producers, but Maroulis opted not to give any details on casting.

"I think [the film is] a testament to the hard work we've all put into it," he said.

If You Go

What: "Rock of Ages"

When: March 1 to 6

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $20 and up

What: Free mini-concert by the cast of “Rock of Ages”

When: 1 p.m. Feb. 24

Where: South Coast Plaza’s Jewel Court

Information: scfta.org

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