The ferocity of hard rock is eroded by a stream of easy laughs in Rock of Ages, a hot mess of a musical that is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Broadway run with a 16-week Off-Broadway engagement, shrunk to fit the carpeted confines of New World Stages. Tasked with creating a story that could withstand an abundance of 1980’s music, by which I mean snippets of nearly every rock anthem and power ballad one can think of from that era, writer Chris D'Arienzo throws as much plot as he can at the audience to see what sticks. And when in doubt, he doubles down on stereotypes and genitalia jokes. Fortunately, a handful of sweet performances pours some sugar on the proceedings.
Drew (C.J. Eldred, though played with gnarly aplomb by understudy Michael Mahany on the night I attended) is a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit. Sherrie (Kirsten Scott) is a small town girl living in a lonely world. They meet cute on the Sunset Strip where both have landed jobs at a seedy bar, Dupree’s Bourbon Room. Drew wants to rock. Sherrie wants to know what love is and wants Drew to show her. He fumbles his approach though and soon Sherrie is in the arms of bad boy Stacee Jaxx (P.J. Griffith). In short order, she loses her waitress job and finds new employment giving lap dances at a strip joint run by Justice (Jeannette Bayardelle, belting her heart out). Meanwhile, two scheming real estate developers have plans to tear down the bar. We know they are scheming because their names are Hertz and Franz (Tom Galantich and Dane Biren) and they speak with cartoon German accents. With the bar’s owner, Dennis (Matt Ban, whose rock voice is satisfyingly gravelly), blissfully stoned out, it’s up to a city planner named Regina (Tiffany Engen), pronounced “ReGYna” (tee-hee), to stop them. It goes on and on and on and on.
Costumes by Gregory Gale reveal a lot of skin, but the production as a whole, as directed by Kristin Hanggi, seems afraid to show any heart. Every sincere moment is interrupted with a comic turn that we could do without. And the chief offender is Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis) who serves as a sort of narrator/menacing fool/creepy observer that shows up in one slightly lewd t-shirt after another. Jarvis created this role on Broadway and has performed it over 1200 times. Apparently never receiving the rock-and-roll memo that it’s better to burn out than to fade away, he lands flat. But oh, Sherrie, our love holds on for Ms. Scott who shines in her demanding role, especially during a poignant rendition of Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart,” and Mr. Griffith shifts the first act into high gear with a dynamic version of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” He also gets one of the night’s funniest lines, though it’s one that their legendary scenic designer, Beowulf Boritt, probably doesn’t appreciate. Stuck in an upstage corner with Sherrie, he implores, “Come, make this awkward cross to a better sight line with me.”
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
"Rock of Ages has returned for a scaled-down production Off Broadway at New World Stages, where it had its New York premiere in 2008, before relocating to Broadway the next year. The show somehow plays fairly well despite an environment that’s generally a lot less tolerant of men pushing around women in the name of rock ’n’ roll — or in the name of anything, really. Its saving grace is a certain good-natured goofiness that somehow tampers the deep-rooted sexism of the L.A. metal scene. It helps that the director and choreographer are, now as then, two women: Kristin Hanggi and Kelly Devine."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Times