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‘Rock of Ages’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?

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It was the ‘80s all over again on Broadway Tuesday night as the heavy-metal jukebox musical ‘Rock of Ages’ opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Big hair, electric guitar and synthesizer were all in attendance.

The musical, written by L.A. theater veteran Chris D’Arienzo, was first performed in 2005 at Hollywood’s King King club before moving on to engagements in Las Vegas and off-Broadway. ‘It’s heartland music, without a doubt. I like to joke that it’s the first straight-man musical,’ director Kristin Hanggi said in an interview in Sunday’s Arts & Books section.

‘Rock of Ages’ stars ‘American Idol’ alumnus Constantine Maroulis as one of several aspiring musicians trying to realize his dreams of hitting it big on the Sunset Strip rock scene of the ‘80s. Amy Spanger plays one of his friends, an aspiring actress from Kansas, while Mitchell Jarvis incarnates a sound man / narrator character who is the object of both their affections.

The show features ‘80s hits by Styx, Pat Benatar, Journey, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger and many more.

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In a nod to its distinctly non-Rialto roots, ‘Rock of Ages’ features in-seat bar service during the performance, which means you can get hammered while enjoying the time warp back to the halcyon Reagan-era years.

How did the delicate flowers of New York’s critical establishment respond to this assault of power chords and screaming vocals? Read below to find out.

-- David Ng

Like many of his peers, David Rooney of Variety expressed admiration for the show’s hard-to-resist charms: ‘In wedging hit songs into a purpose-built, featherweight plot, the show has an abiding affection for its inglorious era that goes some way toward selling its brash charms.’ He later added: ‘The air is thick with fog and a whiff of armpit that could be an olfactory effect or a hard-working drinks waiter.’

Peter Santilli of the Associated Press described it as a ‘high-energy, low-IQ spectacle’ that is ‘performed by a talented cast and a potent house band. Throw in an arena-style light show and it all makes for a lively night at the theater.’

‘The unapologetically silly show opened Tuesday night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, slightly revised from its fall Off-Broadway run but with the same don’t-take-it-serious, winking attitude that made it so easy to like,’ wrote Joe Dziemianowicz of the Daily News.

Roma Torre of NY1 said in her on-air review that the show ‘is not for everyone, but I bet a lot of people who wouldn’t expect to like this goofy musical will be smitten. Count me in that group.’

Even hard-to-please Charles Isherwood of the New York Times offered kind words: ‘This karaoke comedy about warped-vinyl dreams is about as guilty as pleasures get. Call it ‘Xanadu’ for straight people — and straight-friendly people too.’

Elysa Gardner of USA Today offered one of the few dissenting opinions: ‘Inexplicably, ‘Rock of Ages’ plods on for 2½ hours, with one intermission. You’re better off buying an ‘80s hits collection — or, to borrow a line from Journey, taking a midnight train going anywhere.’


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