By Chris D'Arienzo, Directed by Kristen Hanggi. New World Stages. (CLOSED; moving to Broadway.)
Early reviews for Rock of Ages read like reluctant raves—as one writer put it, this show should suck but somehow the tissue-thin 80s hair-band jukebox musical pulls it off. As the reviews add up, though, there's a growing chorus of critics who, while impressed by the show's cheesy savvy, are less charmed by it.
(Patrick Lee) The hugely enjoyable musical has the good sense to riotously spoof itself, tongue always in cheek. The tone is set by our mullet-haired narrator (played with infectious energy by Mitchell Jarvis) who confesses he's no "Andrew Lloyd Sondheim" and that he wanted to explore deep and insightful theater—but instead is narrating a show with poop jokes and Whitesnake songs.
(Mark Blankenship) Really, Rock of Ages should suck. Like a thousand other shows, it takes pop songs from a particular era (in this case, the hair metal '80s) and shoves them into a flimsy plot, then it names the ingenue Sherrie, so her boyfriend can sing Steve Perry's "Oh, Sherrie." The ushers even hand out lighter-shaped flashlights, so everyone can participate in the forced nostalgia by waving fake Bics during power ballads. And yet, somewhere between the Styx dance break and the Twisted Sister reprise, this jukebox tuner transcends its hoary parts to become a legitimate artistic achievement. Auds may even wave their lighters out of genuine enthusiasm.
(Matthew Murray) It knows what it is and who it's for, and makes no apologies. It's so sure of itself, in fact, that its ushers hand out (battery-powered) lighters at the beginning of the show, fully aware audience members will know when to wave them in the air. And so they do. Even without the props, Rock of Ages would never set the theater on fire, but it comes close enough to ensure you'll be pleasantly trapped in the heat of the moment.
Time Out B+
(David Cote) Yes, the ingredients are all fast-food leftovers. But mixed together and nuked for three minutes, they are quite tasty...Rock of Ages shouldn't be this enjoyable, but director Kristin Hanggi whips her talented cast into a lather of headbanging goofiness, turning up the volume to avoid explanations. It pretty much works: They bring the face-melting solos, you supply the flashbacks.
NY Post B+
(Frank Scheck) [A] relentlessly silly jukebox musical that's so willing to please, it hands out disposable lighters to wave during the power ballads. And hey, you can order drinks from your seat. Add yet another American Idol alumnus to the mix—Constantine Maroulis—and you have a perfect storm of cheesiness...Based on the rapturous response that greeted nearly every number recently, Rock of Ages may do for '80s rock what Mamma Mia! did for ABBA.
(Deirdre Donovan) 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.
Associated Press B+
(Jennifer Farrar) A talented cast enacts fond, over-the-top homages to some of the hard rockers, glam rockers and power balladeers who influenced the '80s music scene. D'Arenzio has humorously melded various plot arcs to lead into relevant song lyrics—some ironically appropriate—from that hedonistic era, and the result is a nonstop party.
NY Times C+
(Andy Webster) Like much of the music that inspires it, Rock of Ages too often lacks a human pulse...The flash-and-trash ambience...is on the mark, and Kristin Hanggi's direction never lags. But...where is the shredding? A wailing guitar solo?...The show winds up, inevitably, with Journey's anthem "Don't Stop Believin'." With Rock of Ages, that's easier said than done.
Back Stage C+
(Mark Peikert) Rock of Ages isn't a bad show; it's just a lazy one. From choreographer Kelly Devine's bump-and-grind dancing that could have been ripped straight from the bar top of Coyote Ugly to Gregory Gale's outlet-mall costumes, the whole show tries to get as innocuously as possible from song to song. Director Kristin Hanggi has buffed everything to a shine, but bookwriter Chris D'Arienzo relies too much on...presumed nostalgic haze.
Theater News Online C+
(Bill Stevenson) Without a doubt the loudest musical in town, on or off Broadway...Fans of Pat Benatar, Foreigner, Joan Jett, Styxx, and Poison may have a good time, but others will probably find this nostalgiafest as dopey as it is deafening.
TheaterMania A- 12; Variety A- 12; TalkinBroadway B+ 11; Time Out B+ 11; NY Post B+ 11; CurtainUp B+ 11; AP B+ 11; NY Times C+ 8; Back Stage C+ 8; Theater News Online C+ 8; TOTAL = 103/10 = 10.3 = B