Theatre Is Easy: “Rock of Ages”

Written by Theatre, Theatre Is Easy

BOTTOM LINE: It’s nearly impossible to not have a good time at Rock of Ages.

Maybe it was the Blue Moon in my hand. Maybe it was my appreciation for self-aware theatre that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It could’ve been that songs like “Don’t Stop Believin'” remind me of college. Or maybe it was that everyone on stage seemed to be having so much fun. Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed myself at Rock of Ages, the silly new juke-box musical playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

null

Rock of Ages is a tribute to hair metal with a loosely-developed story that serves as the forum for a concert covering songs by Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Poison and others. The theater has a concert vibe from the moment you enter and you can grab a beer before you walk through the backlit haze on your way to your seat. Then sit back and relax as narrator Lonny (Michael Jarvis) takes you on the journey of a local L.A. bar and concert venue on the verge of being torn down by conservative German developers who want to rid the Sunset Strip of its grungy, rocker edge.

Enter the players: future rocker and dreamer Dave (Constantine Maroulis), naive actress Sherrie from Kansas (Amy Spanger, played by understudy Savannah Wise when I saw the show), famous rock star Stacee Jaxx (James Carpinello), bar owner Dennis (Adam Dannheisser), hippie protester Regina (Lauren Molina), and the ensemble who play a plethora of roles including bar patrons, bar employees, rockers and strippers. The small but mighty cast of 15 covers major ground as they rock the stage for two and half energetic hours.Hair metal is strangely conducive to live musical theatre and the cast and creative team of Rock of Ages do a fantastic job retaining the integrity of the genre while making it appropriate for theatrical presentation. I mean, hair metal is somewhat showy in its own right, so visually, the concept translates with ease on a big Broadway stage. But I hadn’t realized just how musical songs like “We Built this City” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” actually are. The cast successfully walks the fine line of rocking out and making it all sound great. And with smart orchestrations and a competent band, the Brooks Atkinson rocks hard with a clear, perfectly leveled sound the entire time. Rock of Ages’ sound design is unparalleled. I don’t know how they can make every note and every spoken word so crisp and balanced.

Rock of Ages doesn’t try to break new ground or offer thought-provoking theatre. It’s pretty clear from the start that it’s about the entertainment and the fun. The story is a vehicle for the music, and for jokes that range from crass toilet humor to dry, self-deprecating wit. And everyone is on the ride together. The fourth wall is frequently broken as Lonny talks directly to the audience and I’m sure the show frequently turns into a sing-along by the end, as it did the night I saw it.

Kristin Hanggi’s direction keeps the excitement up and Kelly Devine’s choreography keeps the rhythm pulsing. With the untra-clichéd ’80s rocker vibe created by the set and costume designers (Beowulf Boritt and Gregory Gale respectively), it’s hard not to indulge and enjoy the ridiculousness that was the hair metal rock scene.

Rock of Ages first played in LA, then off-Broadway before it opened on Broadway in April. I am willing to bet that whatever the size of the theater and whatever the crowd on any given night, this show has always made people happy. And sometimes that’s enough of a bottom line to validate a ticket price. If cheap laughs don’t thrill you or you can’t stand this music, you should probably avoid Rock of Ages. Also, if you’re generally only impressed by classical theatre, this might not be the show for you, as it’s intentionally lowbrow. I’d recommend it highly though, for anyone looking for escapism. Rock of Ages appeals to a wide demographic, it’s probably fitting for most people between the ages of 14-65 from anywhere in the world.  It’s not the most sophisticated Broadway offering to be sure, but it promises an enjoyable two-and-a-half hours.

Rock of Ages plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St. Performances are Mon, Tue, and Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, and Sun 2 and 7 PM. Tickets are $61-$121. Get half off a full-price ticket with promo code FLAG09 through July 7. To purchase tickets visit ticketmaster.com, and for show info visit rockofagesmusical.com.