The Cast of Rock of Ages
Photo: Joan Marcus
Thankfully, Rock of Ages, the new musical that just opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway is anything but just another jukebox musical. The show takes songs from 1980s hair metal bands and weaves them together, albeit loosely, into a raucous and silly evening of theatre that is more fun than I am happy admitting.
During the 1980s I had just graduated from High School and was living in New York City. I was more of an "Andrew Lloyd Sondheim" (to quote one of the characters in the show) fan than I was a fan of Styx, REO Speedwagon or Poison. The music was far more tolerable than I would have recollected, perhaps even a bit enjoyable and oddly not too loud (a complaint I have at most concerts these days).
Constantine Maroulis in Rock of Ages
Photo: Joan Marcus
TThe plot revolves around Drew, a bar-back at the Bourbon Room, a rock club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Drew is here from the mid-west to make it big as a rock star. Drew is played by "American Idol" also-ran Constantine Maroulis. In the role of his love interest, Sherrie, is Amy Spangler. She is also fresh off the bus ready for her big break. What she finds are grab-ass rock-stars with short attention spans. Next thing she knows she is working as a stripper. Both Mr. Maroulis and Ms. Spangler handle their roles without trouble. Vocally they are both up to the task.
To the mix we add the owner of the Bourbon Room, Dennis played with great enjoyment by Adam Dannheisser and another rock-star wannabe and bar employee, Lonny. Lonny is the evening's narrator and is played by Mitchell Jarvis. He has been provided with some pithy lines by book writer Chris D'Arienzo to help stitch together the plot. He flits about the stage like Tinkerbell on steroids and delivers a fun performance you won't soon forget.
Amy Spangler in Rock of Ages
Photo: Joan Marcus
The future of the bar is in jeopardy because a German real estate developer, Hertz played by Paul Schoeffler, is intent on tearing down the bar to make room for a Foot Locker. He plays the role with stereotypical German stoicism (that is until he starts to sing with the rest of the cast). His son Franz is his side-kick until he realizes the error of his ways. Franz is played with sheer abandon by Wesley Taylor in a role reminiscent of the character of Mark on "Ugly Betty." He has one of the best lines of the evening. When told by some of the girls that they thought he was gay he responds with "I'm not gay, I'm German." He ultimately falls in love with flower child hold-over Ragina (rhymes with... well you know) played by Lauren Molina.
This show is not going to win a Pulitzer but if you have a thing for songs like "Every Rose Has its Thorns," "I Want to Know What Love Is," and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" (or even if you just came of age during the 1980s) you will have an appreciation for this show. The band is terrific, the set and lighting are eye-catching as they extend out into the theatre from the stage and the show is directed with a brisk pace by Kristin Hanggi.
During this time of morbid national spirits I found myself thinking how lucky we are on Broadway to be so blessed with a variety of entertainment choices. There is a place on Broadway for Rock of Ages and it couldn't have come at a better time.
In other reviews...
Ben Brantley in the NY Times says " Fortunately, and I must say surprisingly, the attractions of this latest in the ceaseless parade of jukebox musicals on Broadway extend well beyond the extensions. Written with winky wit by Chris D’Arienzo, directed with zest by Kristin Hanggi, sung with scorching heat by a spirited cast, and featuring a towering stack of heavy-rotation favorites from the glory years of MTV — hits from Journey and Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar and Poison, Whitesnake and Twisted Sister — this karaoke comedy about warped-vinyl dreams is about as guilty as pleasures get. Call it “Xanadu” for straight people — and straight-friendly people too." Read the entire review
For the Associated Press, Peter Santilli says " This lighthearted, comedic production faithfully retreads 1980s rock classics, performed by a talented cast and a potent house band. Throw in an arena-style light show and it all makes for a lively night at the theater." Read the entire review
For the Bergen Record's Robert Feldburg the joy was, well not so much. He says "Rock of Ages, which has been directed with a frantic hand by Kristin Hanggi, seems intent on creating a crude, crass and raunchy atmosphere that will echo the 1980s rock world. A dubious goal, sloppily pursued." Read the entire review
Reuter's Frank Scheck said " The audience at a recent preview ate it all up, enthusiastically singing along and dutifully waving their flashlights. Clearly, "Rock of Ages" is tapping into a target demographic that has little use for the music of ABBA or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons." Read the entire review