Former St. Charles resident Paul Wiley never really saw himself as a musical theater-type guy. Through much of the past decade, Wiley could be found performing at Chicago rock venues like Metro or Double Door in bands like Egostatic, Jupiter Blue and Royal.
But that changed when Wiley was hired in January as a guitarist for the national tour of the hit 2009 Broadway jukebox musical "Rock of Ages," which returns to Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre starting Tuesday, March 11.
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Yet the music Wiley plays in "Rock of Ages" isn't exactly the stuff of stereotypical Broadway musicals. It's a grab bag of nostalgic 1980s Top 40-hits like "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Here I Go Again," "Renegade" and more, all repurposed to fit playwright Chris D'Arienzo's comically self-conscious script about two dreamers who are soon disillusioned when they try to make it in Hollywood's sleazy rock music scene.
"It's kind of taken me back to my childhood," Wiley said, adding that as part of the MTV generation he remembers all the music videos for the songs in the show. "I started playing guitar at 10, so these were a lot of the songs I first tried playing."
Though the music is familiar to Wiley, the backstage mechanics of set changes, extra choreography and dialogue down in front is new to him as a band guy.
"It's really interesting to see how it all comes together," Wiley said, adding that the band performs on an elevated platform throughout the show and even gets to deliver a line or two. "I'm pretty amazed every night that we pull it off just because it is pretty intricate and ... there are a lot of things that could go wrong at any moment."
Like the show's fictional heroes, Wiley left the Midwest and relocated to the Los Angeles area in 2011. He was following his son, who recently graduated from a California film school, so he could focus more on composing for TV and films. But Wiley also admits that escaping Midwestern winters was another major factor.
"2011 was the same year that we were hit by that massive snowstorm that shut down Lake Shore Drive," he recalled.
Wiley had lived in both Chicago and St. Charles at that point. Living in the suburbs worked well for the musician.
"I could go to the city to play in 30 minutes, but have a house with a studio so I could have privacy and be loud and not worry about Chicago noise ordinances or parking," Wiley said.
Playing for "Rock of Ages" is a bit of a detour for Wiley. He got the job when a friend in the show suggested he audition. At this point in the show's touring life, it's largely one- or two-night gigs, so a weeklong stay in Chicago for Wiley is a dream.
"I'm looking forward to going back to a few of the places I used to play," Wiley said. "And I'm looking forward to the pizza. ... One of the things you can't easily get in L.A. is deep dish. I'm definitely going to partake when I get back to Chicago."