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Associated Press
Adam Shankman directed “Rock of Ages,” which is based on the Broadway musical.

‘Aging chorus boy’ directs musical

They wanna rock. And sing songs by Journey, Foreigner and Pat Benatar, as well as Twisted Sister.

“Rock of Ages,” based on the Broadway jukebox rock musical and opening today in movie theaters, runs the spectrum of 1980s rock types.

There are the young singing hopefuls, played by Julianne Hough, from “Dancing with the Stars,” and Diego Boneta, a Mexican singer and actor who looks like a younger, less angry Henry Rollins.

These young people pay the bills by working at a fictional Sunset Strip club called the Bourbon Room. The club’s aging owner (Alec Baldwin) and his party-forward sidekick (Russell Brand) keep rein on the club’s wild crowds while recovering from bad business deals with a sleazy rock manager (Paul Giamatti, sporting a stylish 1980s balding-with-a-ponytail look).

They all stop whatever they are doing when rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) – drunk, deluded, underdressed and pseudo-philosophical yet nevertheless still able to hit the high notes – enters the club.

Shooting a movie with musical numbers, big crowd scenes, big stars and Stacee Jaxx’s baboon sidekick required excellent wrangling skills.

Good thing Adam Shankman – film director, prolific television and film choreographer and sometimes “So You Think You Can Dance” judge – knows how to handle a few things at once. Plus, Shankman already directed “Hairspray,” the hit 2007 movie that was based on a Broadway musical.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q. You were in your early 20s in 1987, when “Rock of Ages” takes place, and you are from L.A. Did you ever go to the Whisky a Go Go or other Sunset Strip clubs?

A. Oh yeah, definitely. Tower (Records on Sunset, re-created in the film) was my haunt. I grew up looking at the Strip. My first concert was at the Roxy.

When I went into this, I was a little leery about doing a jukebox musical. I am kind of a purist. But then I thought about it: “Singin’ in the Rain” was a jukebox musical.

It was so extraordinary to see the show (on Broadway). I have never seen an audience in a Broadway show freaking out so much. This is lightning in a bottle, to have a Broadway musical where the whole audience is straight guys pounding their fists.

(And) it takes place in the place where I am from, and is something I totally remember.

Q. Did you know Tom Cruise could sing before he signed on to do the movie?

A. We didn’t know if he could sing the way I needed him to sing. But he was so excited. ... He had a couple of sessions with a vocal coach. I was there, and he was unbelievable. He kept increasing his range.

Q. That ’80s rock is not easy for a guy to sing ...

A. Nobody really sings like that anymore, other than Adam Lambert. Their voices were so high, and they were just screaming. (Cruise) had to really work on that.

Q. Is his character as prominent in the Broadway show, or did you flesh out the character because Tom Cruise was playing him?

A. He was fleshed out and altered, kind of. What Tom and I really talked a lot about was, “What were these guys really like?”

Really, they are like men-children, and so that is where we went. The character in the play is more of a bull in a china shop. We decided to go with a guy who is a kite with no strings.

Even though he has the manager, the bodyguards, the women, the monkey – there are always people around him – he sees himself as this lonely cowboy.

Q. You have directed non-musical films (“A Walk to Remember,” “Bringing Down the House”) as well as musicals. Are musicals harder?

A. It is a lot more work, but it is more joyous, and I love the form. I am an aging chorus boy – that is how I always see myself. This kind of stuff is in my DNA. Neither of my next films is a musical, but I certainly have more musicals in me.

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