Glam rock and theater are two canons of pop culture that seemingly couldn’t be more distinct. But if that’s entirely true, the thousands of hybrid fans of both genres that have made Rock of Ages, Chris D’Arienzo’s cleverly crafted classic rock creation, one of the longest running shows in Broadway history, clearly failed to get the memo. While the jukebox musical departed the Great White Way four years ago, the boisterous production has enjoyed worldwide success in countries, such as Australia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, while simultaneously continuing its dominance domestically, in cities like Chicago, Las Vegas, and Washington D.C.
Presently in the initial stages of another New York City run, completing a full-circle turn at New World Stages, home of the show’s original tour, the current version is scheduled to last through the fall. However, if early reviews are any indication, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this limited engagement get extended once again.
Set during the debaucherous decade of the 1980s, the story’s primary backdrop is a once thriving Hollywood bar known as the Bourbon Room, managed by the playfully oafish Lonny Barnett, who doubles as the show’s narrator, and owned by the formerly hard-living, long-in-the-tooth Dennis Dupree. It’s here where the tale’s protagonists, aspiring rocker Drew Boley, a bashful busboy, and naive waitress Sherrie Christian, a recent transplant from Paola, Kansas, develop a relationship that encounters many of the typical obstacles found in classic love stories, including an obnoxious third-party threat in the form of celebrated rock star Stacee Jaxx, as well as the lingering possibility of the club’s demise as a result of a new “clean living” edict in the town.
It’s a simple, yet effective, formula that works beautifully, and hasn’t missed a beat in the years that it’s been on hiatus. The cast is superb, and ranks among the best of the ensembles assembled in the numerous interpretations since its modest debut at a club in Los Angeles in 2005.
Kirsten Scott evokes both a remarkably innocent quality to Sherrie while seamlessly transitions into a more tarnished character as the play moves along, while PJ Griffith’s deft portrayal of the unlikable Stacee is terrific and succeeds in getting the audience to loathe him. CJ Eldred, conversely, does a wonderful job as the affable Drew and his vocal chops are top-notch, to boot.
But the true nucleus of the musical is the storyteller himself. Mitchell Jarvis (click here for RF’s interview with Jarvis), who originated the integral role of Lonny in its first incarnation, is back and is clearly the star attraction. The seminal character sets the tone for the entire production and Jarvis effortlessly produces constant uproarious laughter with each hilarious line uttered, in addition to his flawless facial expressions that are undoubtedly second nature to the talented actor at this point.
While it’s certainly not a prerequisite to be a hair metal aficionado in order to enjoy the spectacle, it admittedly heightens the experience. With definitive spandex anthems like “Here I Go Again,” “Nothin’ But A Good Time,” and “I Wanna Rock” mixed together with syrupy power ballads, such as “Heaven,” “I Want To Know What Love Is,” and “More Than Words,” it’s nearly impossible to resist singing along to each swollen strain.
Like other musicals of the jukebox variety, Rock of Ages is no different in its proclivity to encourage repeat viewings by fanatics of each staging the show takes. And with this revival, there’s a satisfactory amount of fresh content sprinkled throughout, including, most notably, the long-awaited inclusion of Def Leppard tunes (“Pour Some Sugar On Me,” natch, and a fitting brief snippet of the play’s namesake), as well as an adroit, tongue-in-cheek nod to the 2012 ill-conceived film version.
But for those seeking the original magic that shaped the essence of Rock of Ages, don’t fret. From the whimsical chemistry between Tiffany Engen’s Regina (pronounced ‘ruh-jai-nuh) and Dane Biren’s confectionery-obsessed Franz to the show-stopping REO Speedwagon-infused duet by Dennis (Matt Ban) and Lonny, it’s all there – wine coolers sold separately.
Click here for tickets to Rock of Ages.