MTV left Times Square without actual music far too long ago, so it’s a welcome treat to have “Rock of Ages” usher the era of 80s rock back into Midtown. Big hair, scantily clad chicks and guitar solos are on full display thanks to Chris D’Arienzo’s new musical, now on Broadway following a run at the New World Stages.
Leave your blue-haired grandmothers at home. There’s no Sondheim here. This show is unafraid to embrace its porn-style plot line and pure guilty pleasure status. If only more shows were so comfortable in their own skins. On second thought, there might only be room for one “Rock of Ages” each season. We can’t have Broadway getting too hip. Plus, it takes a certain kind of gravitas to pull off pleather and lace.
You can almost smell the Coors Light seeping from the fictional Sunset Strip club The Bourbon Room. Although, that might actually be the beer served by an energetic wait staff at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Or perhaps the wine coolers knocked back on stage.
And what respectable 80s rock fest could get by without brightly colored leotards and headbands? Cue the Olivia Newton-John workout videos.
The entire musical is built upon memorable 80s rock songs, including such perennial favorites as “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot, “Renegade” by Styx, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison and the song no musical should be without, “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey.
“Rock of Ages,” under the choice direction of Kristin Hanggi, tells quite a simple story. Los Angeles boy, Drew, meets a naïve girl, Sherrie, from America’s flyover territory. Girl falls for an aging rock star before resorting to the steady profession of stripping. Meanwhile, boy gets too cool for school until he realizes he can’t live without an Arby’s sandwich, and the girl. With Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” blaring, the two live happily ever after, in the neon glow of the Sunset Strip.
The motley crew of actors making up this jukebox musical are clearly enjoying themselves each night. Mitchell Jarvis, as the excitable narrator Lonny, is witty enough to pull off this Jack Black styled role with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility. His character spends most of the show providing snarky commentary as he watches Drew (Constantine Maroulis) pine over Sherrie (Amy Spanger).
Maroulis and Spanger work off of each other well, which is fortunate as Spanger is a new addition to “Rock of Ages” since its Broadway transfer. James Carpinello is another replacement in the new production, although he is filling the shoes of Will Swenson who opted to be in the revival of “Hair.” It makes for an unfortunate comparison, but Carpinello, as the fading rocker Stacee Jaxx, is able to keep things entertaining enough.
Along with perfectly quirky performances from Lauren Molina, Paul Schoeffler and Wesley Taylor, all playing roles pivotal to the secondary story concerning the Bourbon Room’s demolition, the production holds up well under the weight of Broadway.
Not everyone will find the huge serving of 80s nostalgia and rock anthems appealing, but those tired of yet another revival might just discover their own golden ticket to the Broadway experience. In a time when theatre producers are checking pay phones for loose change, a guilty pleasure like “Rock of Ages” has potential to draw in the untraditional theatergoer, a patron that reads Perez Hilton rather than the New York Times.
This review was picked up by The Printed Blog.
Photos by Joan Marcus.