From the ’80s rock soundtrack playing as you enter the Brooks Atkinson Theatre to the ushers serving drinks to your seat (during the show itself!), Rock of Ages is not your great-aunt’s Broadway musical. No, this is a Broadway musical that masquerades as an ’80s cover-band concert, boasting a score stuffed like a giant mixed tape with 30-some ’80s metal classics like ”Harden My Heart” and ”Wanted Dead or Alive.”
In the knowingly cheesy tradition of Mamma Mia!, these retro hits are shoehorned into a shotglass-deep boy-meets-girl love story set in and around a rock bar on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. The romantic journey centers on the lithe Amy Spanger as a small-town girl, living in a lonely world, and the goofily affable American Idol survivor Constantine Maroulis as a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit. You can see where this is going, right? Did I mentioned the small-town girl’s name? It’s…oh, Sherrie.
With its glaring lack of wit and sophistication, Chris D’Arienzo’s book might well have been cribbed from an episode of Saved by the Bell. Spanger and Maroulis are appealing in leg-warmer-thin roles, as is Wesley Taylor as a hilariously fey German named Franz, but the rest of the cast is a very mixed bag. Mitchell Jarvis vamps his way through a B-list Jack Black impression as a fourth-wall-breaking narrator/bar worker, while James Carpinello displays notably low wattage as a vain rock god.
For Gen Xers on a nostalgia trip, though, this Off Broadway transfer does provide its Memorex-induced pleasures — often embedded Beowulf Boritt’s clever set and prop design (at one point, a character gives birth to a Cabbage Patch Kid). Is Rock of Ages nothin’ but a good time? Not quite. (Sorry, Poison fans.) But it’s frequently more fun than it has any right to be. C+