BWW Review: Mitchell Jarvis Returns To ROCK OF AGES in 10th Anniversary Production
When bookwriter Chris D'Arienzo's 1980s hair-band tuner Rock of Ages moved from Off-Broadway's New World Stages to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April of 2009 - with a score made up of classics by Journey, Styx, Asia, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Foreigner and a bunch of others - it was, to this reviewer's recollection, the first Broadway jukebox musical to acknowledge the silliness of jamming hit songs into an unrelated story.
Through self-referencing commentary, some Pirandello-ish antics and a grandly trashy production directed by Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages was good, stupid, noisy fun that didn't take itself as anything more than good, stupid, noisy fun. And that was enough for a nearly six year long Broadway run. Not bad for a show that, the author was warned, was sure to close in a week.
The 10th Anniversary Production of Rock of Ages, once again at New World Stages, is a remounting of Hanggi's original, bringing back Kelly Devine's breakneck choreography, Gregory Gale's sexy costumes, Beowulf Boritt's grimy dive bar set and Jason Lyons' concert-inspired lighting.
It also brings back the wonderfully funny and charismatic performance of Mitchell Jarvis, who, while not exactly approaching Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I status yet, has played the musical's acerbically-humored, flamboyantly physical, mullet-topped narrator Lonny over 1,000 times.
Lonny takes us back to "a sexier time; the Reagan era!" We're in Los Angeles - a city that, as we will soon learn, was built on rock and roll - in an old dump of a bar called The Bourbon Room, owned for decades by Lonny's employer, Dennis (lovably grizzled Matt Ban). The Bourbon Room is regarded as a music landmark for being the launching pad for the world-famous band Arsenal, fronted by the well-chiseled, bleached-blonde bundle of self-absorbed testosterone, Stacee Jaxx (PJ Griffith).
The admittedly thin love story matches Drew (CJ Eldred), a young songwriting janitor with dreams of rock stardom, with new-in-town wannabe actress Sherrie (Kirsten Scott). Their romance hits the skids when Drew uses the f-word (friends) on their first date.
Meanwhile, German real estate developer Hertz (Tom Galantich) wants to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. (Oops! Wrong decade. I mean he wants to tear down the club and build a mall or something.) He faces opposition from city planner Regina (Tiffany Engen), who doesn't intend to take it anymore. (Song cue!) While leading protest marches, she strikes up a friendship with Hertz's shy son Franz (Justin Colombo), who just wants to go back home and open a confectionery store.
ROCK OF AGES has grown on this reviewer since his admiring, but not especially enthused review of the original production. Despite the occasional crudeness, there's a sweet innocent to the proceedings and the brash showbiz attitude emitted by the talented company is certainly infectious. Check your brain at the door and have a blast.