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New York critics weigh L.A.-spawned '80s rock musical

October 28, 2008 |  5:00 pm

Constantine Maroulis (with guitar) and Kelli Barrett play new arrivals from the heartland trying to make it on the Hollywood scene in the '80s jukebox musical,

The reviews are in for the off-Broadway production of  "Rock of Ages," the L.A.-spawned jukebox musical that's an affectionate spoof of the mid-1980s Sunset Strip "hair band" heavy-metal and hard-rock scene.

Though every rose has its thorn (as the Poison ballad performed in the show reminds us), the musical, which had its first run at the Hollywood dance club Vanguard in 2006, didn't fare all that badly with Gotham's theatrical press corps. In fact, where the original Ratts, Poisons, Warrants and Twisted Sisters of the world seldom heard an encouraging word from music critics, their scene's winking stage re-creation, written by Chris D'Arienzo and directed by Kristin Hanggi, might even get a boost from assorted journalistic thumbs raised in salute -- along with the disposable lighters handed out to audience members for the play's re-enactment of everybody's favorite rock concert power-ballad cliche, uh, ritual.

The New York Times liked the show's energy and look -- "The flash-and-trash ambiance is on the mark ... and Kristin Hanggi's direction never lags" -- but sniffed at "the paper-thin story, played for laughs" and complained that "like much of the music that inspires it, 'Rock of Ages' too often lacks a human pulse."

The New York Post was not impressed: "a perfect storm of cheesiness," "relentlessly silly," "forget the plot." Still, it concluded, "based on the rapturous response that greeted nearly every number ... 'Rock of Ages' may do for '80s rock what 'Mamma Mia!' did for ABBA."

But some critics apparently had a ball at the headbangers' musical: "a crowd pleaser that never takes itself seriously (nor should it). It gets the '80s power-ballad scene right," said the Daily News. Meanwhile, the Newark Star-Ledger recommended "Rock of Ages" as "tons of retro fun for anybody loving those bygone times of big hair and even bigger power chords."

"This fast-paced, kinetic spectacle ... is crazy fun ... and the result is a nonstop party," said the Associated Press. And Daily Variety, in a possible first for anything smacking of hair-band rock, opined that "this jukebox tuner transcends its hoary parts to become a legitimate artistic achievement." Variety credits the D'Arienzo-Hanggi team with finding "an excellent middle ground" between fond nostalgia and mockery. "They know their material is just for fun, but they don't suggest they're superior to it. They invite us to laugh with '80s rock 'n' rollers instead of at them."

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Constantine Maroulis (with guitar) and Kelli Barrett play new arrivals from the heartland trying to make it on the Hollywood scene in the '80s jukebox musical "Rock of Ages."

Credit: Joan Marcus