Constantine Maroulis and company
photo by Joan Marcus
When you look at your program for Rock of Ages you’ll come into a wealth of information, not only from what’s there and how it’s displayed but also by what’s not there. And what is not there is the usual program listing of the songs of the musical you are about to see, those energetically performed, electronically fully decibel-ed 80’s rock tunes you’re there to have delivered as powerfully as the woofers and tweeters allow. Obvious conclusions: (1) these songs are so well known they do not need listing (2) these songs are the reason for the show and for the audience. Although the songs may be the motivation for the audience and obviously for the more than two dozen producers backing the show, Rock of Ages is not simply a mini rock concert (“mini” by rock concert attendance standards since you can only squeeze about a thousand screaming fans into Atkinson). No, Rock of Ages has a book, a written story with a plot and characters and everything bookish that goes into a Broadway musical. And – the show has a director who does all those requisite directing things Broadway musicals require, a choreographer, ditto, sets, lights, costumes, and—something unexpected: attitude. Attitude redolent of Broadway sensibility. Rock of Ages is a Broadway show, cheeky, spunky, brutally amoral, manufactured brazenly out of crassest commercial instincts and proudly so, on its own terms a roaring success.
All this is in the listing page of the program if you know that Chris D’Arienzo as author of the book and Kristin Hanggi as director have their names in type four times larger than anybody else including the producers, showbiz indications of standing and importance – and ego – in connection with the show. And deservedly so. When the show started out in Los Angeles in 2005, the central idea was the songs, up front and paramount. At what point the conceptualizers determined they needed a story as a framework for the music, the show was really born. And grew, and developed, with a cool, clear intelligence guiding, shaping the story line, deliberately, nakedly the Same Old Story, the Boy, the Girl, Dreams of Success, trials, tribulations, happy ending. And, oh, baby, all fitted around the music. With a Narrator (it works for the biggest and it’s easier than crafting) as cheerfully slithery as any of the snakes in the business, funny, beguiling, half an inch deep like the rest of the show he lays out. Enough for a musical. After all, it’s a musical. Big German entrepreneur buys up treasured rock music dump of a bar, the Bourbon Room, on the Sunset Strip, ready to gentrify. Horrors. Protests. Boy tries to become a rock star. Sleazy record producers sully his purity. Girl never even gets to a sleazy producer, ends up a stripper, a go-go dancer, a lap dancer, but really regrets sullying her purity. Narrator leering, laughing, slithering through it all. Rock song, rock song, rock song. Audience participates, waves little imitation lighters handed out to each patron. Audience patrons also order drinks throughout the show. Drink waiters slither up and down aisles even in tenderest moments. Everybody’s having a ball. The utter, honest cynicism is invigorating.
Beowulf Boritt’s scenery sets the trashy tone from the start, Costumer Gregory Gale captures that tone perfectly and does it one better with costumes reminding us that in the 80’s the hooker look was in, and the guys all manufactured costume macho. And hair, hair, hair, more hair than Hair. Director Hanggi allows a moment or two to wilt when Michele Mais plays heart of gold madam to her go-go dancers, but not another lost second otherwise in the drive of the show. In a large, energetic cast, Amy Spanger, Mitchell Jarvis and Wesley Taylor stand out. I have to confess never to have heard a louder finale. No wonder there’s a surge in hot looking, fashionable hearing aids for the Boomer set. They’ve earned them.
Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street. Tickets: $50.50-$99. Tue,Sun 7 pm. Mon,Wed-Sat 8 pm. Mats,Sat,Sun 2 pm. 212-367-4100.