The new '80s rock musical Rock of Ages is without a doubt the loudest musical in town, on or off Broadway. The singers are loud, the band is loud, even most of the dialogue is loud. (And the waitresses taking drink orders during the show aren't exactly quiet.) 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.
The cliched plot involves an aspiring rocker named Drew (Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame) who works as a table runner at an L.A. club, The Bourbon. Wannabe actress Sherrie (Kelli Barrett) arrives from Kansas and quickly catches Drew's eye. After he makes the mistake of saying he wants to be her friend, however, Sherrie has a fling with womanizing rock star Stacee Jaxx (Will Swenson, who sports a long blond wig and hijacks the show whenever he's on stage). Swenson's bathroom seduction of Sherrie, to the strains of the Foreigner power ballad "I Want to Know What Love Is," is the show's comic highpoint.
Rock of Ages' inane book is by Chris D' Arienzo, and he provides a narrator, Lonny (Mitchell Jarvis ), to spell out the plot points and make lame jokes. "I'm no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim," he informs us. Other characters include bar owner Dennis (Adam Dannheisser) German developer Hertz (Paul Schoeffler), who wants to bulldoze the Bourbon his son Franz (Wesley Taylor), who is more interested in opening a candy store -the shrill Regina (Lauren Molina), who protests the demolition and heart-of-gold madam Justice (Michele Mais).
Maroulis has a big voice, but for some reason he's given extra amplification every time he gets a solo. (Perhaps there's a clause in his contract saying his voice must always be the loudest.) Everyone sings loudly and is overamplified though, in order to be heard above the blaring band. Occasionally a ballad like Extreme's "More Than Words" provides aural relief from the otherwise deafening din.
At least the producers secured the rights to some of the best-known '80s rock hits. The first act ends with a lively ensemble performance of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," with choreography by Kelly Devine. The campy second act includes Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" (not unexpected, given the heroine's name), and Journey's rousing "Don't Stop Believin"
Probably the most inspired idea the producers -or director Kristin Hanggi -had was to give everyone in the audience faux lighters to wave over their heads during their favorite songs. That adds comic relief while contributing to the show's concert feel. Rock of Ages will appeal mainly to diehead '80s-rock buffs, though fans of Maroulis and Swenson may want to catch their performances.