Rock of Ages

The nearly 20 producers who have latched onto the Broadway production of Rock of Ages since its Off-Broadway incarnation earlier this season must have smelled a big fat jukebox hit in the making. They may well have invested wisely. Like the cash cows Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages will appeal mainly to undiscriminating theatregoers who are more interested in hearing the tunes of their youth than in a credible story and characters with more than two dimensions.
Not that there's anything wrong with a rollicking silly time, and the show partially delivers on that score. The Brooks Atkinson has been tricked out by set designer Beowulf Boritt to resemble a theme-park version of Los Angeles' Sunset Strip circa 1984, with neon signs and a sleazy rock club complete with a graffiti-scrawled men's room. Scantily clad waitresses scurry up and down the aisles serving drinks before and during the performance. Patrons are given miniature lighters to hold aloft during the ballads. Everything's in place for a ripping concert, but the pesky story gets in the way.
Chris D'Arienzo's book is a theatrical Mad Libs game, with various '80s hits filling in the blanks of the miniscule plot: German developers scheme to tear down the strip's drugs-sex-and-rock district, as wannabe rock god Drew and actor-barmaid Sherry meet cute, split up, and reunite. That's about it. As directed with manic energy by Kristin Hanggi and played with an obvious wink to the audience by the hard-working cast, the show doesn't take itself seriously for one second. But the humor level is so low and the characters so broad that interest in the story is lost after the first 20 minutes. If the creative team had dispensed with the script and just let the ensemble and kick-ass onstage band tear through the hits of the era, Rock of Ages would have really rocked.
As Drew and Sherry, Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame and Amy Spanger of several Broadway shows sing with electricity, yet they fail to jolt their cardboard roles to life. Mitchell Jarvis oversells as Lonny, the sound guy/narrator and possibly the most annoying Cabaret emcee knockoff in musical theatre history. Rolling his eyes, flinging his arms, underlining every joke and then punctuating it with three exclamation points, Jarvis mashes together gay and rocker stereotypes, simultaneously offending both communities. James Carpinello finds snatches of nasty fun as a David Lee Roth-type headliner, and Adam Dannheisser lends a degree of veracity to the sage bar owner Dennis, but Paul Schoeffler, Lauren Molina, and Wesley Taylor enact their clich├ęd supporting parts with all the delicacy of sledgehammers. Only Michele Mais as Justice, a big-hearted strip-club manager, combines powerful pipes with sturdy dramatic technique. She has a tiny role, but when she steps on stage she brings a backstory with her rather than a pack of lame punch lines.
Still, those punch lines, plus the hit songs of 20-year-old hair bands, are probably enough to carry Rock of Ages through a profitable run, so actors should start working on their rock audition pieces for the inevitable touring productions.

Presented by Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin, Jeff Davis, Barry Habib, Scott Prisand, and Relativity Media, in association with Corner Store Fund, Janet Billig Rich, Hillary Weaver, Ryan Kavanaugh, Toni Habib, Paula Davis, Simon and Stefany Bergson/Jennifer Maloney, Charles Rolecek, Susanne Brook, Craig Cozza, Israel Wolfson, Sara Katz/Jayson Raitt, Max Gottlieb/John Butler, David Kaufman/Jay Franks, Mike Wittlin, Prospect Pictures, Laura Smith/Bill Bodnar, and Happy Walters and the Araca Groupat the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St., NYC. Opened April 7 for an open run. Mon., 8 p.m.; Tue., 7 p.m.; Thu. and Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 and 7 p.m. (212) 307-4100 or Ticket Master. Casting by Telsey + Company.