In a Broadway season with only one new hit musical — "Billy Elliot" — the rousing reception accorded to "Rock of Ages" is particularly noteworthy. The well-reviewed show, which opened Tuesday, uses hits of 1980s rock bands to tell the tale of a young buck from the backwoods (Constantine Maroulis) in the big city and the doe-eyed girl (Amy Spanger) who spurs him on to fame and fortune.
When done well, these so-called jukebox musicals that use proven hit songs can win Tony Awards a la 2006 champ "Jersey Boys." That best musical winner chronicled the rise and fall of the Four Seasons with Tony-winning turns by John Lloyd Young and Christian Hoff. However, all too often these shows hit all the wrong notes with critics and audiences alike. Consider the failure of a trio of 2007 tuners: "All Shook Up" (using the songbook of Elvis Presley), "Good Vibrations" (The Beach Boys), and "Imagine" (John Lennon).
Writing about "Rock of Ages," Charles Isherwood of the New York Times raves, "the attractions of this latest in the ceaseless parade of jukebox musicals on Broadway extend well beyond the extensions. Written with winky wit by Chris D’Arienzo, directed with zest by Kristin Hanggi, sung with scorching heat by a spirited cast, and featuring a towering stack of heavy-rotation favorites from the glory years of MTV — hits from Journey and Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar and Poison, Whitesnake and Twisted Sister — this karaoke comedy about warped-vinyl dreams is about as guilty as pleasures get."
For Isherwood, "The performances blend sincere conviction and knowing parody. Mr. Maroulis, an alum of 'American Idol,' possesses a soulful, pure and intense voice that negotiates the mountains of melisma and cuts through the electricity with ease. He isn’t required to do anything intense in the acting department, but has a natural, laid-back presence that invites you to root for Drew. Ms. Spanger, a veteran of several Broadway shows, sings with a matching ferocity, and plays the hard-used heroine with a smidgen of real winsomeness."
Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News says, "It all plays out in predictable fashion, but Kristin Haggi's cheeky staging and Kelly Devine's
pulsating choreography makes it an enjoyable journey. Factor in a
couple dozen feel-good tunes and a rocking band and you've got a
Reprising the part of nice-guy Drew, whose janitorial job is a steppingstone to rock stardom, Maroulis brings versatile pipes and a shaggy charm that's irresistible. The adorable Spanger's comic expertise adds fresh dimension to her starlet-turned-stripper."
And for Peter Santilli of the AP, "Constantine Maroulis leads a solid cast with an impressively natural performance as Drew, the fledgling rock star. Maroulis displays the sterling voice and easy, engaging presence that made him a favorite on TV's 'American Idol.' Maroulis is complemented by the talented Amy Spanger in the role of Sherrie, the naive actress turned exotic dancer. Mitchell Jarvis provides welcome comic relief as Lonny the sound guy, who doubles as the narrator. Jarvis is responsible for many of the funnier moments in the show's otherwise uneven comedy."
Photo: Brooks Atkinson Theatre