×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rock of Ages

Really, "Rock of Ages" should suck. Like a thousand other shows, it takes pop songs from a particular era (in this case, the hair metal '80s) and shoves them into a flimsy plot, then it names the ingenue Sherrie, so her boyfriend can sing Steve Perry's "Oh, Sherrie." Yet, somewhere between the Styx dance break and the Twisted Sister reprise, this jukebox tuner transcends its hoary parts to become a legitimate artistic achievement.

With:
Lonny - Mitchell Jarvis Drew - Constantine Maroulis Sherrie - Kelli Barrett Stacee Jaxx - Will Swenson Dennis - Adam Dannheisser Justice - Michele Mais Regina - Lauren Molina Franz - Wesley Taylor Hertz - Paul Schoeffler

Really, “Rock of Ages” should suck. Like a thousand other shows, it takes pop songs from a particular era (in this case, the hair metal ’80s) and shoves them into a flimsy plot, then it names the ingenue Sherrie, so her boyfriend can sing Steve Perry’s “Oh, Sherrie.” The ushers even hand out lighter-shaped flashlights, so everyone can participate in the forced nostalgia by waving fake Bics during power ballads. And yet, somewhere between the Styx dance break and the Twisted Sister reprise, this jukebox tuner transcends its hoary parts to become a legitimate artistic achievement. Auds may even wave their lighters out of genuine enthusiasm.

The success is due largely to tone. If nostalgia musicals take their subjects too seriously, they can be schlocky, but if they mock the past too much, they can be insufferably smug. In “Rock of Ages,” scribe Chris D’Arienzo and director Kristin Hanggi find an excellent middle ground: They know their material is just for fun, but they don’t suggest they’re superior to it. They invite us to laugh with ’80s rock ‘n’ rollers instead of at them.

The comedic lynchpin is Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis), a burnout who runs the sound at Dupree’s Bourbon Room, a fictional club on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. He’s our narrator, and his asides acknowledge the show’s cheesiness without belittling its heart. “This may be a bit more ‘Guys and Dolls’ than the actual Strip,” he says, “But you know what? It’s the theater. We romanticize.”

D’Arienzo lets Lonny comment at all the right times, so it feels like we have an ally on stage. If he groans at an obvious joke, then our intelligence isn’t insulted. If he digs the love story between wannabe rocker Drew (Constantine Maroulis), who cleans the club’s toilets, and naive small-town girl Sherrie (Kelli Barrett), then we’re invited to care about them, too.

Jarvis steals Jack Black’s wise-ass attitude from “School of Rock,” but he ably grounds the show. Even better, he knows when to play small, which keeps him from being a total caricature.

The rest of the cast follows suit. “American Idol” finalist Maroulis finds several honest moments as an awkward kid afraid to pursue his dreams, and Barrett injects real desperation in her journey from suburbanite to failed actress to stripper. (Her arc is one of the script’s wittiest touches, since it recreates Pat Benatar’s journey in the “Love Is a Battlefield” video.)

Will Swenson, who played Berger in this summer’s Central Park revival of “Hair,” ignites several scenes as Stacee Jaxx, the leader of a hair metal band who threatens to steal Sherrie’s heart. His faith in his own sexiness, even when he’s a drunken mess, is charmingly earnest.

Because it’s relatively restrained, the production’s most over-the-top numbers are refreshing. Without giving too much away, the back-to-back insanity of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” are hilarious because they upend our expectations of the characters, the costumes and the choreography.

And then there’s the music. A few numbers overdose on screechy theatrics, but the singing is mostly impressive. Ethan Popp’s arrangements also make these chestnuts sound fresh, like when Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” and Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart” blend into a surprisingly successful medley. That kind of craft makes escapism even more satisfying.

Rock of Ages

New World Stages; 499 seats; $80.50 top

Production: A Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin, Jeff Davis, Corner Store Entertainment presentation, in association with Scott Prisand, Janet Billing Rich, Hillary Weaver, Charles Rolecek, Susanne Brook, Israel Wolfson and Prospect Pictures, of a musical in two acts with music by various composers and book by Chris D'Arienzo. Directed by Kristin Hanggi. Musical direction, Matt Beck.

Creative: Choreography, Kelly Dieine. Sets, Beowulf Borrit; costumes, Gregory Gale; lighting, Jason Lyons; sound, Walter Trarbach; projections, Zachary Borovay; wigs, Tom Watson; orchestrations, Ethan Popp. Opened Oct. 16, 2008. Reviewed Oct. 14. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: Lonny - Mitchell Jarvis Drew - Constantine Maroulis Sherrie - Kelli Barrett Stacee Jaxx - Will Swenson Dennis - Adam Dannheisser Justice - Michele Mais Regina - Lauren Molina Franz - Wesley Taylor Hertz - Paul SchoefflerWith: Nova Bergeron, Brian Munn, Angel Reed, Savannah Wise, Jeremy Woodard, Jackie Burns, Lara Janine, Tad Wilson.

More Legit

  • Hugh Jackman'To Kill a Mockingbird' Broadway

    'To Kill a Mockingbird's' Starry Opening: Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and More

    The Shubert Theatre in New York City last was filled on Thursday night with Oscar winners, media titans, and, of course, Broadway legends who came out for the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The starry guest list included Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller, “Les Misérables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Gayle King, [...]

  • Pat Gelbart Obit Dead

    Actress Pat Gelbart, Wife of 'MASH' Creator, Dies at 94

    Pat Gelbart, widow of late “MASH” creator Larry Gelbart, died surrounded by family at her home in Westwood, Calif. on Dec. 11. She was 94. Gelbart was born in Minneapolis, Minn. in 1928 as Marriam Patricia Murphy. When she met her husband, Gelbart was an actress, known for the 1947 musical “Good News,” in which [...]

  • To Kill a Mockingbird review

    Broadway Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

    Against all odds, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Bartlett Sher have succeeded in crafting a stage-worthy adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic American novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The ever-likable Daniels, whose casting was genius, gives a strong and searching performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town Southern lawyer who epitomizes the ideal human qualities of goodness, [...]

  • Isabelle HuppertIsabelle Huppert Life Achievement Award,

    Isabelle Huppert, Chris Noth to Appear on Stage in 'The Mother'

    Isabelle Huppert will appear opposite Chris Noth in the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of “The Mother.” It marks the U.S. premiere of the show. “The Mother” was written by French playwright Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton. Huppert, an icon of European film, was Oscar-nominated for “Elle” and appears in the upcoming Focus Features [...]

  • Could Anyone Follow ‘Springsteen on Broadway’?

    Could Anyone Follow 'Springsteen on Broadway'? Here Are Five Things They'd Need (Guest Column)

    After 235-odd shows, with grosses in excess of $100 million, a Special Tony Award and a hotly anticipated Netflix special debuting Sunday, “Springsteen on Broadway” is an unprecedented Broadway blockbuster. As with any success in entertainment, the rush to replicate The Boss’ one-man show reportedly is under way, with a consortium led by Live Nation, CAA [...]

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content