Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Here They Go Again

Rock of Ages
Book by Chris D’Arienzo
Musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp
Directed by Kristin Hanggi
Choreographed by Kelly Devine
Starring Constantine Maroulis, Kelli Barrett, Mitchell Jarvis, Jeremy Woodard, Lauren Molina, Michelle Mais, Angel Reed

Off-Broadway performances through January 4, 2009
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street

Broadway performances begin on March 20, 2009
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street

Barrett (center) in Rock of Ages (photo: Joan Marcus)
Rock of Ages answers the burning question: can 28 forgettable hit songs from the lost decade of the 80’s (with a couple from the 1970s) be strung together to create an entertaining musical? Well—sort of.

Taking its title from Def Leppard’s 1983 pop-metal hit—which is not heard in the show, by the way—Rock of Ages gives us a story straight out of Musical Book Writing 101. Aspiring rocker Drew (Constantine Maroulis of “American Idol” fame), working at the famed Bourbon Room on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, meets aspiring actress Sherrie (the delightful Kelli Barrett) and falls hard for her—at least until she is predictably seduced by hair-band Arsenal’s superstar singer Stacee Jaxx. Meanwhile, heartless German developers (!?!) plan to raze the entire strip as part of the mayor’s campaign to clean up Los Angeles. We built this city, indeed!

Anyone listening to Top 40 radio 20 years ago would read that brief plot outline and pick certain songs to fill out the story—and yes, most of those are performed. (Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie” makes an appearance, of course.) As in all songbook musicals—Mamma Mia (Abba) and We Will Rock You (Queen), most obviously—the Rock of Ages plot is borderline idiotic, merely an excuse to shoehorn in classic rock hits, like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Styx’s “Too Much Time on My Hands,” Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” and even one-hit wonders like Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart.” The best moments are both acts’ finales, Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” where the cast’s infectious energy rubs off on the audience during the feel-good singalongs.

Of course, Rock of Ages being set in the 80’s, there’s big hair, lots of makeup, and (mostly female) pulchritude everywhere—it’s like watching Whitesnake videos live onstage, with comely actresses like Angel Reed and Savannah Wise in the Tawny Kitaen roles. Kelly Devine’s amusing choreography takes off on the MTV generation’s many clichés, and Kristin Hanggi’s tongue-in-cheek directing follows suit.

It will be interesting to see if Rock of Ages succeeds on Broadway, where audiences might not accept second-rate, forgotten songs at Great White Way prices (albeit somewhat cheaper than usual). At least book writer Chris D’Arienzo and musical supervisor Ethan Popp have a sense of humor about these cheesy tunes, and the leads are standouts. The talented Maroulis is excellent, and Barrett is a real find: an appealing actress who doesn’t over-emote while singing and who is both wholesome and sexy simultaneously.

originally posted on timessquare.com

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