‘American Idol’ rocker stars in the ‘straight-friendly’ musical, ‘Rock of Ages’
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Joan Marcus
Houston theater fans were introduced to Constantine Maroulis two years before viewers in TV land embraced him as the romantic rocker on the fourth season of American Idol. When the Broadway musical Rent toured Houston in 2003, Maroulis starred as Roger. “It was huge,” he says. “It’s an iconic role. It taught me so much and gave me the chance to apply all this stuff I learned [in theater classes at the Boston Conservatory].”
His hard-rock band, Pray for the Soul of Betty, accompanied him on the Rent tour, playing post-performance concerts in many of the cities and presaging his star turn in the still-running Broadway smash Rock of Ages. “Houston knows how to party, I know that,” remembers Maroulis.
Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) brings Rock of Ages to Houston through June 12 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The jukebox/concert musical weaves hits by Journey, Night Ranger, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Asia, and Whitesnake in a show that Ben Brantley of the New York Times called “seriously silly, absurdly enjoyable” and “Xanadu for straight people—and straight-friendly.” Rolling Stone announced that Rock of Ages “has found a perfect lead in American Idol rocker Constantine Maroulis.”
The New Yorker asked, “Is there a Tony Award for badassery?” Maroulis was nominated for a 2009 Tony Award for best actor in a musical. (Not often does the original star, much less a star performing his Tony-nominated role, play Houston.)
“It was a dream come true,” says Maroulis, 35, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey. “I had a front-row seat.” Maroulis was up-close when Poison rocker Bret Michaels was knocked down by a descending set piece during the opening number of the 2009 Tony Awards. “I thought he was seriously injured,” remembers Maroulis.
Michaels had sung a song from Rock of Ages, in a medley that featured other celebrities who were associated with 2009 musicals but hadn’t actually appeared in them, including Dolly Parton (9 to 5) and Elton John (Billy Elliot).
Three youngsters who alternated in the title role of Billy Elliot shared the best-actor trophy, leaving Maroulis in distinguished company with fellow nominees Gavin Creel (Hair), Brian d’Arcy James (Shrek The Musical), and J. Robert Spencer (Next to Normal). “I couldn’t have felt any more love than if I had won,” says Maroulis, a respected member of the New York theater community whose 2008 appearance as a contestant on the TV show Don’t Forget the Lyrics! raised $25,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
In 2005, American Idol fans chose five contestants ahead of Maroulis, including winner Carrie Underwood, who shot to country music stardom. Many viewers were probably surprised when Maroulis landed on Broadway, unaware of how he had already played roles ranging from Macbeth to Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and both Jesus and Judas in different productions of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Maroulis calls Rock of Ages “hot and sexy. There are stripper poles, lotsa hair, ripping guitars, and costumes that are fierce. There’s also a wonderful duet in act 2 between two men singing REO Speedwagon like you’ve never imagined.” (The song is “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” but it’s not what you might think.)
After wowing American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and judges Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson, Maroulis debuted his single, “Unchained Melody,” on the April 7 telecast of the show. He concedes that it wasn’t his best performance, explaining that he only got to rehearse briefly with the band. However, he says, “It was a wonderful opportunity and I got to show [a photo of] my baby girl to the world.”
A few weeks later, Maroulis was featured on TV’s Dancing with the Stars, where he fared better with critics, and again, his pleasant, laid-back repartee with the host surely endeared him to the audience.
What: Rock of Ages
When: May 31–June 12
Where: Hobby Center’s Sarofim Hall, 800 Bagby
Tickets: start at $24
More info: thehobbycenter.org, tuts.com, 713/315-2525, or 713/558-TUTS (8887)
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.