New Characters, No Lapdance — Do Story Changes Make Rock of Ages Better Or Worse?

Rock of Ages stage to screen

Fans of the Broadway musical Rock of Ages may throw tomatoes when they see the big screen version; director Adam Shankman, screenwriter Justin Theroux and even Tom Cruise himself made some major changes to the plot of the stage show. Some make the edgy musical more family friendly, but others sharpen the story. Will fans embrace their toned-down Rock of Ages movie?

In the film version Cruise stars as Stacee Jaxx, a legendary hair metal rocker with existential issues. Meanwhile, at The Bourbon Room, where Jaxx is performing his last show before going solo, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta) are falling in love. Sherrie just moved to L.A. to pursue her dreams; Drew has been paying his dues and gets the chance to open for Jaxx, but the rock n’ roll world splits up the young lovers.

But exactly how Rock of Ages unfolds from there differs notably from the Tony-nominated stage musical. Movieline spoke with director Shankman, writer Theroux, and star Hough about five major changes in the Rock of Ages movie, for better and worse.

1. Sherrie and Stacee no longer, uh, do it
A major plot point in the stage musical is that Sherrie sleeps with Stacee during the “I Wanna Know What Love Is” number and that’s what leads to her split from Drew. In the movie, the incident is reduced to a misunderstanding involving a spilled bottle of scotch — Drew gets the wrong idea when he sees Stacee zipping up his pants in close proximity to Sherrie — which kinda makes Drew look like a moron.

In the stage version, Stacee later comes back to Sherrie when she is working at a gentleman’s club, where she gives him a lap dance. Oddly, Shankman went ahead and shot the lap dance scene with Hough and Cruise, but took it out of the movie.

"'Rock You Like a Hurricane' was the duet that I did with Tom and it is bad frickin’ ass," Hough revealed at the Rock of Ages press day. "I mean, literally ass. No literally, this was the sexiest but roughest performance in the movie and I think it was a little bit too much for people. I think that people, especially women, didn’t really like Sherrie after that."

It wasn’t just women, but a very specific group of women, said Shankman. "Super easy to explain," Shankman said of the scenes that didn't test well pre-release. "It really upset mothers. The mothers literally turned against her character because her character sold out so much and she was such an animal in the scene. On top of which, where that scene was placed, it was at the top of the third act and you just want her to get to the Bourbon with those records. It was this huge deviation from the story in order to just do this number.”

It also makes sense as a story omission because without their sex scene, what’s the point of a lap dance? Shankman said empowering teenage girls in the audience was the most important factor. “The number, frankly, it is on the extended version and will be on Netflix and all that, you’ll understand why it got cut because it really upset mothers,” Shankman said. “I was like, I can’t have mothers saying to their teenage daughters, ‘No, you can’t go see this movie because Julianne Hough is lap dancing Tom Cruise in a G-string — [and doing it] very well.’”

2. Stacee Jaxx’s redemption
On stage, Jaxx remains a creep and flees the country dodging statutory rape charges. Not only would this ending be irrelevant to the new story, it would also be a lame and creepy move for a Tom Cruise movie.

Now the climax of the film involves Jaxx reading an article written by a reporter (Malin Akerman) in Rolling Stone. For the first time, Jaxx sees how he and his management screwed over hard-working music promoters like the owners of The Bourbon Room. To make amends, Jaxx returns to the Bourbon for a free benefit show, thus paving the way for a real finale where Sherrie and Drew join Jaxx on tour — and giving Cruise's Jaxx a means of redemption.

Screenwriter Justin Theroux credited Cruise himself with the new ending. “That was actually an invention of Tom,” Theroux said. “He was like, ‘This guy needs to connect somewhere at the end of the movie.’ He treats it like it’s a dramatic part and he says, ‘No matter what, you still need to have these motivating factors and you need to have this. There needs to be a beginning, middle and an end to this guy. It can’t just be a guy who’s just floating around being funny. He actually has to have something to perform.’ The character of Stacee Jaxx was looking for something and being so famous that he couldn’t even identify it. That thing is, in our movie, love and someone telling the truth. And then also how do we resolve that in a comedic way? [After] that scene where he’s walking and makes out with a girl on his way to make out with the girl — how would that guy find love? That was really the fun part of creating that.”

3. New songs added, some songs gone
Of course, it would be hard for any movie adaptation to keep every single song from its stage iteration, so a few rock classics had to go. Rock of Ages had the unusual problem of obtaining even MORE music than the stage show, and having to make sure to find places for them in the story.

“Well, the movie couldn’t be two hours and 40 minutes long, which is basically the show,” Shankman said. “I also had the opportunity that the play didn’t have — Def Leppard, Joan Jett and Guns n’ Roses opened up their catalogs to the movie, which I would have to attribute to Mr. Cruise’s involvement. I never talked to the guys but I would think that that is what sort of did it. On top of which, the Hairspray cred, people knew that I wasn’t going to make fun of anything.”

Thanks to that, we now get to hear Cruise sing “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” Worth it.

4. A whole new family values subplot
The plot of the stage show involves two developers battling a city planner over a Sunset Strip land deal, a pretty convoluted angle involving the politics of historical landmarks and zoning districts. The movie invents the character of the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta Jones), who is protesting The Bourbon Room on moral grounds, as a Christian crusader against rock n’ roll. It’s clean, simple and pays off when the reasons for her repression are revealed.

In the film, the mayor’s wife steals the song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” from her land developer counterparts in the musical; it becomes the anthem for her church protest group.

5. Goodbye, Fourth Wall
The biggest change musical buffs will notice is that the movie Rock of Ages has no narrator. The stage show not only had a character narrating the story, but it also broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience. The climax of the stage show had the characters realize some playwright gave them a sad ending, so they go and change it.

Meta humor is all well and good but in a movie that might have felt like a cheap cop out. Shankman decided to tell the story linearly, so it has a traditional, feel-good movie plot. The characters succeed because of their own actions, not thanks to some clever meta-device. In taking out the narrator, Shankman decided to make it Sherrie’s story (which also makes it more important that she not lose the audience with her sexual exploits — see #1.).

“By taking out the narrator I had to give it the point of view of somebody, and I thought it would be best to give it to the person who’s new to Los Angeles,” Shankman said.

Stay tuned for more on Rock of Ages, which opens this Friday.

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