Rock of Ages is a funny, engaging musical celebration of 1980s rock, particularly its big-haired, Spandex-clad Los Angeles version. This production, at New World Stages, is a scaled-down off-Broadway version of the musical that ran for six years on Broadway, returning for a three-month run to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its 2009 opening. Director Kristen Hanggi brings alive the feeling of the 1980s L.A. rock scene’s “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll—with plenty of hairspray” culture.
The book, by Chris D’Arienzo, creates an over-the-top image of life at clubs on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The story revolves around the efforts of workers and regulars of a Sunset Strip dive bar, The Bourbon Room, to fight the city government’s drive to clean up the bars and strip joints. Mitchell Jarvis, reprising his Broadway role as Lonny, the narrator, drives the show with his quips, song, and outrageous behavior. PJ Griffith as Stacee Jaxx is the epitome of an ‘80s rock’n’roller. Matt Ban plays the club owner, and Kristen Scott (as a waitress just arrived from Kansas) and Tiffany Engen (as a city planner) are both outstanding. Comic slapstick is provided by Tom Galantich and Dane Biren, as two German real-estate speculators who plan to buy the bar and tear it down.
Gregory Gale’s costumes reflect the seedy Sunset Strip and show a lot of skin. Kelly Devine’s choreography is lively and entertaining. Abbreviated versions of hits like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City,” Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” bring us back to the world of arena-rock anthems and lighters-in-the-air power ballads. (“We’re Not Gonna Take It” has been adopted as a labor-union anthem.)
Rock of Ages is an uproarious, funny and delightful return to the 1980s, a great show if you want an ebullient two and half hours.