You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rock of Ages

If the 1980s were a bad-fashion blur you'd rather forget, "Rock of Ages" may not be for you. But if tortured mullets, unwaxed chests, studded leather, acid-wash denim and wailing guitars make you yearn for the Reagan years, this unapologetically silly hair-metal jukebox musical will probably have you gulping tequila shots and singing along.

Drew - Constantine Maroulis Sherrie - Amy Spanger Dennis - Adam Dannheisser Lonny - Mitchell Jarvis Justice - Michele Mais Regina - Lauren Molina Hertz - Paul Schoeffler Franz - Wesley Taylor Stacee Jaxx - James Carpinello

If the 1980s were a bad-fashion blur you’d rather forget, “Rock of Ages” may not be for you. But if tortured mullets, unwaxed chests, studded leather, acid-wash denim and wailing guitars make you yearn for the Reagan years, this unapologetically silly hair-metal jukebox musical will probably have you gulping tequila shots and singing along. Every bit as brazen as the yardstick for the genre, “Mamma Mia!,” in wedging hit songs into a purpose-built, featherweight plot, the show has an abiding affection for its inglorious era that goes some way toward selling its brash charms.

With their grandiose mini-narratives about small-town girls and city boys following their dreams and finding love, or at least rock ‘n’ roll heaven, amid the heartache, the overproduced songs of bands like Styx, Poison, Foreigner, Europe, Asia and Survivor are a surprisingly snug fit for musical treatment.

That music may not feature heavily in the iTunes libraries of Broadway show fans, but given the eternal push to find new theater audiences, maybe it’s not a bad idea to bypass the regulars once in a while and speak directly to the bridge and tunnel crowd. A New Line movie currently in the works can’t hurt the branding profile of “Rock of Ages,” either.

Even before curtain, the atmosphere at the Brooks Atkinson is less like Broadway than a concert experience. The air is thick with fog and a whiff of armpit that could be an olfactory effect or a hard-working drinks waiter — the show has in-seat cocktail service, something you don’t get at “Irena’s Vow.” The merchandise stands are doing brisk sales in “Hooray for Boobies” T-shirts, while seemingly heterosexual bartenders shout, “Splash of cran, ladies?” Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in the theater district any more.

As the show opens with blinding lights, ear-shredding guitars and hammer-handed drumming, it’s clear that mosh-pit atmosphere is paramount. Beowulf Boritt’s witty set is a jumble of iconic signage — the Chateau Marmont, an Angelyne billboard, Jack Daniels ads — that re-creates Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip in the ’80s. That setting frames Dupree’s Bourbon Room, a fictional venue festooned with bras and panties of groupies past. But behind the show’s trashy facade lies a conventionally sweet musical that traces the standard trajectory of boy meets, loses and finally wins girl.

Narrator, or self-described “dramatic conjurer,” is sound guy Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis), an ingratiating Jack Black clone who winks at the audience with every hoary contrivance. His star-crossed lovers are busboy and wannabe rocker Drew (“American Idol” alum Constantine Maroulis) and aspiring actress Sherrie Christian (Amy Spanger), a Kansas gal whose name dictates we’ll be hearing both Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” and Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” before long.

While Sherrie is misreading Drew’s signals and getting sidetracked by debauched metal star Stacee Jaxx (James Carpinello), a German developer (Paul Schoeffler) strikes a deal to replace the Strip with a strip mall, sparking a protest to save the club. There’s also Sherrie’s downward spiral as, embittered and confused, she takes a lap-dancing gig under the wing of Venus Club den mother Justice (Michele Mais).

Chris D’Arienzo’s broad-strokes story never pretends to cut deeper than the musicvideo narratives it echoes, so despite appealing work from both Maroulis and Spanger, the show’s emotional surges are linked more to the songs than to the romance. When an audience is primed to laugh just by the opening bars of a cheesy ’80s anthem, the writing doesn’t exactly need to be timeless, nor the comedy particularly clever.

Arranger-orchestrator Ethan Popp does a nifty job overlapping thematically related songs to further the flimsy plot, notably the scene-setter of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” with David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” or Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart” with Pat Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” during Sherrie’s stripper odyssey.

There’s some wit in the appropriation of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as a protest number; Bon Jovi’s self-mythologizing cowboy tune “Wanted Dead or Alive” as a sleazy peacock strut for Stacee; and Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” deftly manipulated into a multivoiced 11 o’clock number.

But the biggest crowd-pleasers are the character-driven songs. REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” serves as a bromance declaration between Lonny and Bourbon boss Dennis (Adam Dannheisser), while Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” becomes a rebel yell from effete Franz (Wesley Taylor), the German developer’s no-longer-acquiescent son. Those numbers are boosted by performers given humorous characterizations rather than cutouts to play. However, in the show’s juiciest comic role, Carpinello brings the bod and the vocal chops but doesn’t match the bad-boy magnetism of Will Swenson, whose Stacee was the highlight of the Off Broadway run.

Director Kristin Hanggi knows better than to loiter long between songs, and while it’s overstretched for a show that waves its lack of substance like a banner, “Rock of Ages” keeps moving. Choreographer Kelly Devine gleefully apes the worst excesses of the era’s pole-dancing, crotch-grinding, big-hair-tossing moves; costumer Gregory Gale re-creates the wardrobe crimes with flair; hair guru Tom Watson has worked overtime with the curling wand; and Jason Lyons’ aggressive lighting cranks up the heat.

While “The Wedding Singer” failed to sustain a Broadway audience with its ’80s campfest, that show didn’t have around 30 of the decade’s quintessential hits sampled by a cast that screeches, roars and purrs as if to the power chord born. It’s safe to say nostalgists won’t feel cheated by “Rock of Ages,” and that it won’t be stealing audiences from “South Pacific.” But by the time the ensemble unites on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” even nonbelievers may start inhaling the Aqua Net and embracing their inner rocker.

Rock of Ages

Brooks Atkinson Theater; 979 seats; $99 top

Production: A Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin, Jeff Davis, Barry Habib, Scott Prisand, Corner Store Fund presentation in association with Janet Billig Rich, Hillary Weaver, Toni Habib, Paula Davis, Simon and Stefany Bergson/Jennifer Maloney, Charles Rolecek, Susanne Brook, Israel Wolfson, Sara Katz/Jayson Raitt, Max Gottlieb/John Butler, David Kaufman/Jay Franks, Michael Wittlin, Prospect Pictures, Laura Smith/Bill Bodnar, of a musical in two acts with book by Chris D'Arienzo. Directed by Kristin Hanggi. Music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations, Ethan Popp. Music direction, Henry Aronson. Choreography, Kelly Devine.

Creative: Sets, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, Gregory Gale; lighting, Jason Lyons; sound, Peter Hylenski; projections, Zak Borovay; music coordinator, John Miller; original arrangements/associate producer, David Gibbs; hair and wigs, Tom Watson; makeup, Angelina Avallone; associate director, Adam John Hunter; associate choreographer, Robert Tatad; technical supervisor, Peter Fulbright; production stage manager, Claudia Lynch. Opened April 7, 2009. Reviewed April 3. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Drew - Constantine Maroulis Sherrie - Amy Spanger Dennis - Adam Dannheisser Lonny - Mitchell Jarvis Justice - Michele Mais Regina - Lauren Molina Hertz - Paul Schoeffler Franz - Wesley Taylor Stacee Jaxx - James CarpinelloWith: Bahiyah Sayyed Gaines, Ericka Hunter, Jeremy Jordan, Michael Minarik, Angel Reed, Katherine Tokarz, Andre Ward, Tad Wilson, Savannah Wise, Jeremy Woodard.

More Legit

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

  • Hadestown review

    Broadway Review: 'Hadestown'

    “Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs [...]

  • Burn This review

    Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

    The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial. AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content