Rock of Ages, a CurtainUp Broadway Musical review CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp Review
Rock of Ages
The show is currently running off-Broadway where it began-- at New World Stages.
Rock of Ages Rocks to Broadway

We've got the right to choose it
There ain't no way we'll lose it
This is our life, this is our song.

— Daniel Dee Snider, "We're Not Gonna Take It"
rock of ages
Amy Spanger in Rock of Ages
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Everything is bigger, glossier, and louder on the Broadway stage. Rock of Ages, however, with all its fun and flash, at the Brooks Atkinson Theater basically remains the same feel-good money machine, but more expensive. Concert lighting, blinding strobes, neon signs flashing onstage and off, Chateau Marmont, Angelyne, and Whisky posters from the Sunset Strip, Hollywood scenes on a video backdrop, glitter, glam and big hair. Drinks are sold during the performance, mini-flashlights are distributed, and Arsenal, the five-man onstage band, kicks the amplification out of the decibel park.

Nothing substantial has been added. Don't expect more than a raunchy good time. Think of a thin wire hanger. Hang your skimpiest mini on it. Pile on accessories of the '80's, as many as the wire hanger can hold—necklaces, pendants, scarves, jellies, plastic charms, whatever. The thin hanger must bend under the weight, because it is so totally about accessories. In Rock of Ages, Broadway's latest jukebox musical, the plot is the thin hanger and the rocking hit songs of the '80's are the dazzling accessories.

Check it out, songs by Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Whitesnake, Poison. Radio ballads like Foreigner's "Want to Know What Love Is" spur a flurry of sentimental flashlight waving in the dark. Driving rock anthems like "Here I Go Again" and the crowd-pleasing finale,"Don't Stop Believing" rock out with blazing guitars, pounding vocals, drums and keyboard, trying to hang on to the melody.

The inconsequential trifle of a plot by Chris D'Arienzo, acts only as a device to bring on the next song. Two storylines include boy meets-loses-gets girl with Constantine Maroulis from American Idol as wannabe rocker, Drew. Amy Spanger brings her polished comic and song/dance showmanship to the show as naive wannabe actress Sherrie Christian. Their romance plays out in a grungy rock joint on the Sunset Strip battling against a stern German father-son team, Hertz (Paul Schoeffler) and Franz (Wesley Taylor), a mischievous rebel in the making. They aim to introduce a "clean, pure, efficient" urban renewal. The Dupree Bourbon Club is run by Dennis (Adam Dannheisser) with narrator/emcee, smartass scene stealer, Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis). Maroulis, Taylor, Michele Mais as Justice in the strip joint and Lauren Molina as protester Regina, are carry-overs from the Off-Broadway production. The cartoon characters are as flimsy as the plot, but the cast perseveres with efficiency.

James Carpinello has a splashy cameo turn stepping into the Spandexed role of egocentric Stacee Jaxx. Paul Schoeffler has a theater-trained baritone and as lovely as his singing voice is, it sometimes feels as if he wandered into the wrong musical. Michele Mais continues to display a robust bluesy ballsiness.

To its credit, Rock of Ages still does not try to be even vaguely relevant. It's a salute to the '80's, sending up the fads, the fashions, sex, drinking (straight from the bottle), and the audience is stoked. It's aimed more for the hair band/metal enthusiasts than the soft rock crowd, and Kelly Devine's dances seem inspired by the music video school of choreography. If you are in any way sensitive to ear-splitting noise, you might try to skip this one, which makes Hair, sound almost whispery. The music is playing as you enter the theater, during intermission, and as you leave.

Sometimes bigger is not better. Remember the insouciant tongue-in-cheek of Xanadu, a similarly anemic jukebox musical of the disco days? A short jolt of nostalgia in 90 minutes, no intermission. Director Kristin Hanggi with Rock of Ages drives a harder momentum. Nevertheless, you have to appreciate a show that is out to just entertain, or what kind of a curmudgeon are you?

Editor's Note: To read the review of the show's Off-Broadway production and see a picture of Will Jensen, the originalJaxx who's also currently on Broadway -- but in hair, just scroll past the production notes below.

Broadway Production Notes:
The show is again directed by Kristin Hanggi
Current Cast: Constantine Maroulis (Drew), Amy Spanger (Sherrie), James Carpinello (Father/Stacee Jaxx), Adam Dannheisser (Dennis/Record Company Man), Mitchell Jarvis (Lonny/Record Company Man), Michele Mais (Justice/Mother), Lauren Molina (Regina/Candi), Paul Schoeffler (Hertz) and Wesley Taylor (Franz).Constantine Maroulis (Drew); Bahiyah Sayyed Gaines, Ericka Hunter, Jeremy Jordan, Michael Minarik, Angel Reed, Katherine Tokarz, Andre Ward, Tad Wilson, Savannah Wise, Jeremy Woodard. Choreography: Kelly Devine
Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costumes: Gregory Gale
Lighting Design: Jason Lyons
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Projection Design: Zachary Borovay
Makeup design: Angelina Avallone
Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations: Ethan Popp
Original Arrangements: David Gibbs
Run Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission
Brooks Atkinson Theatre 256 West 47th Street (212) 307-4100 From 3/17/09; opening 4/07/09
Monday @8pm, Tuesday @7pm, Thursday and Friday @8pm, Saturday @2 and 8pm, Sunday @2 and 7pm
Tickets:$50.50 - $99.00
The Show's Off-Broadway production review By Deirdre Donovan

Rally the masses, people! Here are your flyers! Time to show those fat cats there's a history here and it won't be destroyed by their strip malls and yogurt shops! Who's with me?!-- .— Regina
Rock of Ages
Will Swenson in Rock of Ages (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The light-headed extravaganza, Rock of Ages has just landed at New World Stages with blisteringly hot 80s rock songs, a live band, and enough wine coolers to float a love story on. The new jukebox musical returns us to that decade when Jefferson Starship, Bon Jovi, and Nightranger ruled the airwaves, and we moved to the beat of big bands, big hair, and big dreams. The show can be hilariously funny, soothing, melancholy, frightening, obscene, and elevating. Although some scenes topple over into the ridiculously inane, the music effectively captures that verve, and sea change, that defined the decade.

The thin as a comic strip story opens in Los Angeles, or to be more specific, Sunset Strip in the late 80s. A wannabe singer named Drew (Constantine Maroulis) is at the infamous Bourbon Room bar looking for a break to the Big Time. He meets a wannabe actress named Sherrie (Kelli Barrett), who's chasing her own pipe dream. They both end up working at The Bourbon Room, and the electricity between them alternately sparks and sputters.

Superimposed on this romantic story is a political farce: The Mayor and two foreign investors (a German father and his adult son), well-versed in the loopholes of the law scheme to take over The Bourbon Room, demolish it, and use the site to launch their posh urban redevelopment plan. The Bourbon Room owner, Dennis Dupree (Adam Dannheiser), resists the temptation to sell his property to the Mayor and rebels with a posse of rockers. The rest of the story zigs and zags along Sunset Strip to make its point about how far rockers will go to save their rock and roll temples.

The production features a galaxy of good actors. Principals who add the most sparkle include Mitchell Jarvis, playing Lonny, the narrator. He has a clear singing voice, a muscular dancing style, and winning bravura. Another outstanding actor is the increasingly excellent Will Swenson as the rock star Stacey Jaxx. Swenson, who as Berger in this past summer's revival of Hair) displayed his talent for portraying off-beat characters with rebellion in their soul, again embodies an anything-goes attitude. Though Swenson's role is most meaty and convincing in the first act, his solid acting holds — especially in the plot's romantic turnabout when in a mock tableau of Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam", Lonny and Dennis, realize that they are gay and in love just as The Bourbon Room seems on the verge of being destroyed by the wrecking ball. Comic stuff? Yes. But it works like a charm.

The problem with this musical overall is that the huge 21-member cast visually inundates the stage and that their daring routines are sometimes allowed to slip into a burlesque-farce. While all are entertaining, it's difficult to follow so many characters in a mere 2 hours.

The show is packed with classics from the 80s that create an utterly intoxicating nostalgic mood. When the songs are seamlessly interwoven into the story they gain real potency. The Rock of Ages anthem, and its most affecting song, is "We Built This City." Besides being catchy and pertinent to the rock-and--roll theme, its refrain becomes a kind a cri de coeur for upholding individual freedom and the pursuit of one's dream. Another notable song is REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling." Kristin Hanggi's flashy direction emphasizes the Hollywood tinsel can be wickedly appealing, so be prepared for Madonna-esque outfits by costumer Gregory Gale, some very sexy dancing, and risqué asides. . "Heat of the Moment," a second act lap dancing sequence may be true to its 80s spirit. However, even though the young couple (Drew and Sherry) are fully-clothed, this is an example of Hanggi pushing the sex, drugs and rock and roll too far.

Rock of Ages balances its glitzy showmanship with a down-to-earth live band, a capella singing, and a lot of audience participation. In fact, don't expect this to be a sit-back-in-your-seat experience: Ushers at the door not only hand you playbills and guide you to your seats, but also take orders for light refreshments and distribute miniature flashlights to lucky ticketholders. These flashlights, which audience members wave to and fro with the music, give off a will-o-the-wisp glow to the entire theater.

Misstep, and overly facile showmanship notwithstanding Rock of Ages knows which way the wind is blowing. The diehard spirit of the rockers soars, and their love for rock and roll is earnestly communicated in their tenacious refusal to "sell out" to the fat cats. In the harsh light of reality, these rockers display courage, good humor, and even true love. While they mostly fail to win fame, they are winning in their warm affection for each other. Lonny puts it best in the final moments of the show's purifying moral coda: "The dreams you come in with may not be the dreams you leave with."

Rock of Ages
Written by Chris D'Arienzo with Constantine Maroulis
Directed by Kristin Hanggi
Cast: Mitchell Jarvis (Lonny), Michele Mais (Justice), Dennis (Adam Dannheisser), Constantine Maroulis (Drew), Kelli Barrett (Sherrie), Paul Schaeffer (Father), Michele Mais (Mother), Lauren Molina (Regina), Brian Munn (Mayor), Paul Schaeffer (Hertz), Wesley Taylor (Franz), Will Swenson (Stacee Jaxx), Savannah Wise (Waitress), Nova Bergeron (Reporter), Brian Munn (Paul Gill), Adam Dannheisser/Mitchell Jarvis (Record Company Men), Jeremy Woodard, (Joey Primo), Jeremy Woodard (Sleazy Producer), Jeremy Woodard (Dream Dennis), Wesley Taylor (Dream Lonny), Chris D'Arienzo (Chris D'Arienzo), Nova Bergeron, Brian Munn, Angel Reed, Savannah Wise, Jeremy Woodard (The Ensemble).
Sets: Beowulf Boritt
Costumes: Gregory Gale
Sound: Walter Trarbach
Lighting: Jason Lyons
Choreography: Kelly Devine
Stage Manager: Claudia Lynch
New World Stages 340 West 50th. Street 212/ 239-6200 It opened at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre and later transferred to the Helen Hayes on March 24, 2011 where it will be closing 1/18/15 From 10/01/08; opening 10/16/08
Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday at 8pm, Friday at 7pm & 10pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.
Running time: 2 hours plus a 15 minute intermission. Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on October 12th press performance.

Song List: Just Like Living in Paradise / Van Halen; Nothing But A Good Time / Poison; Sister Christian / Night Ranger; We Built This City / Jefferson Starship;Too Much Time On My Hands / Styx; I Wanna Rock / Twisted Sister; Heaven /Warrant; More Than Words / Extreme; To Be With You / Mr. Big; Waiting for a Girl Like You / Foreigner; Wanted Dead or Alive / Bon Jovi; I Want To Know What Love is / Foreigner; Cum On Feel the Noise / Quiet Riot; Harden My Heart / Quarterflash; Shadows of the Night / Pat Benatar; Here I Go Again / Whitesnake; The Final Countdown / Europe; Any Way You Want It / Journey; High Enough / Damn Yankees; I Hate Myself for Loving You / Joan Jett; Heat of the Moment / Asia;Hit Me With Your Best Shot / Pat Benatar; Can't Fight This Feeling / REO Speedwagon; Every Rose Has its Thorn / Poison; Keep On Lovin You / Styx; Oh Sherrie / Steve Perry; The Search is Over / Survivor; Renegade / Styx; Don't Stop Believing / Journey
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