“As long as I can remember I was always into music,” says Janet Billig Rich, one of the producers of the musical Rock of Ages, opening Feb. 15 at the Pantages Theatre. “It was always something that spoke to me on such a personal level; I was just drawn to it. I think that is true for so many people.”
“When I was a young girl I was obsessed with “˜Nadia’s Theme’ and then when I was in high school I found my first real love, the band The Replacements. I drove all around the country seeing them, and since then pretty much every major event in my life grew out of music. Sometimes it was just the song playing in the background and sometimes it was all the places music took me in my career.”
Rich is a music industry veteran who went from standing in the back of a rock club selling T-shirts for Sonic Youth and R.E.M. to being a publicist for bands such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Primus. SheÂ also managed artists such as Lisa Loeb, Hole, Nirvana and The Breeders and produced and music supervised concert tours, TV shows and films. One of her biggest thrills was going to the 2009 Tony Awards as one of the producers of Rock of Ages, which received five nominations including Best Musical.
Rock of Ages is told through the songs of iconic rockers Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Whitesnake and more. It’s set in 1987 on the Sunset Strip, where a small-town girl meets a big-city dreamer in LA’s most legendary rock club. American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis will repeat his performance as Drew, the role that garnered him a Tony Award nomination as Best Actor in a Musical. Kristin Hanggi, also a Tony nominee, is reprising as director with Kelly Devine as choreographer.
Rich says, “I am often reminded of the quote attributed to the screenwriter William Goldman about the movie business: “˜nobody knows anything.’ I was working with a brilliant group of people developing an ’80s musical motion picture project, which was fantastic but got bogged down in the process. We all loved it and people really responded to it, but once it was sold to a studio it went into development jail. Then one day, we were in [producer] Matt Weaver’s office and he said, “We should produce a musical where everyone at the end sings “˜Don’t Stop Believin,’’ and it was just one of those simple brilliant moments.
“Matt’s wife Hillary and Kristin were producingÂ and directing (respectively) the Pussycat Dolls on the Sunset Strip, so that inspired the locale. Kristin introduced us to Chris D’Arienzo, who came up with these characters and this story that resonates so deeply. Carl Levin brought his American Express card and enthusiasm and Dave Gibbs brought the musical authenticity and arrangements. And we were off and running.
“Our team is such a reflection of the theme of the show, we never stopped believing. And it’s been one hell of a ride from King King on Hollywood Boulevard to Broadway, and now we are storming back to Hollywood Boulevard at the Pantages with the touring company.”
Rock of Ages started at the Hollywood nightclub. “The shows at King King were a magical mess,” Rich says. “We had a cast of thousands in a space that held hundreds. We had 10 singers, 10 dancers, 10 principal actors. We didn’t know you could go the triple threat route. But those early shows were very important because they gave us the opportunity to show the rights holders for the music that Rock of Ages is a love letter to the music and the Sunset Strip of the ’80s.
“There was something very unique to how people would respond to seeing it presented in this way. Chris, Kristin and Hillary knew we were always Broadway bound, and I used to joke that “˜we’re taking Whitesnake to Broadway,’ but manyÂ truths are said in jest I suppose. And now the audience gets to hear David Coverdale from Whitesnake at the opening of every show.”
After its world premiere, playing four shows over two days in July 2005 at King King, just about a half-mile from the Pantages, it played at the Vanguard nightclub in Hollywood in January 2006. Its New York story began off-Broadway in the fall of 2008, then opened April 7, 2009 on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
It is Rich’s first Broadway show as a producer but she doesn’t plan for it to be her last. “I have always loved the world of theater and Broadway. There are some amazing skull “˜n’ bones traditions of the theater. Once you get a peek inside you want to dig your heels in and stay.”
While Rock of Ages closed at the Brooks Atkinson in January, it will re-open on March 24 at Broadway’sÂ Helen Hayes Theatre. AndÂ a new production will open at the Comedy Theater in Melbourne, Australia in March. TheÂ company now in Hollywood will go next to Costa Mesa for a week, then San Francisco and continue touring until July. Next, a London production is being planned. A New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. film of the musical, directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray), is scheduled to be released later this year.
Rich’s husband works with her on music supervision and clearance projects. They have eight-year-old twins, Molly and Harrison. She says, “I can trace the different steps that Rock of Ages has taken by the age they were when things happened. They were just little babies when we were at King King and now they’ll be escorting me to Rock of Ages at the Pantages Theatre. And we’ll be sitting alongside their other junior producer partners ““ Matt and Hillary’s girls, Chase and August.
Her plans after opening? “They are the same as Rock of Ages ““ Don’t stop believin’!”
Rock of Ages, produced by Matt and Hillary Weaver, Carl Levin, Janet Billig Rich and David Gibbs, opens Feb. 16; plays Tue.-Fri., 8 pm; Sat., 2 and 8 pm; Sun., 1 and 6:30 pm; through Feb. 27. Tickets: $25-$90. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 800.982.2787 or broadwayla.org.