‘Rock of Ages’ review: Off-Broadway suits jukebox musical well

Mitchell Jarvis, center, stars in Off-Broadway's "Rock of Ages." Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

The hit musical is celebrating its 10th anniversary at New World Stages, where it debuted in 2008.

Mitchell Jarvis, center, stars in Off-Broadway's "Rock of Ages."
Mitchell Jarvis, center, stars in Off-Broadway’s "Rock of Ages." Photo Credit: The Williamsburg Hotel

If you go: “Rock of Ages” runs through Jan. 12 at New World Stages. 340 W. 50th St., rockofagesmusical.com.

Who was it that said you can’t go home again?

Unlike so many other hit musicals and plays that decamped to Off-Broadway’s New World Stages after playing Broadway (i.e. “Avenue Q,” “Jersey Boys,” “The Play That Goes Wrong” and so on), the heavy metal jukebox musical “Rock of Ages” made its New York debut at New World Stages in the fall of 2008 before transferring to Broadway.

After running more than six years on Broadway and generating a starry but terribly misconceived 2012 film adaptation, “Rock of Ages” has returned to New World Stages for a 10th anniversary revival helmed by its original creative team, including director Kristin Hanggi and choreographer Kelly Devine. Although originally slated to run through October, the production recently extended into January.

"Along with “Mamma Mia!” and “Jersey Boys,” “Rock of Ages” represents the finest of the jukebox musical, a genre that is often lazy and shameless.

The book (by Chris D’Arienzo) is unusually well-constructed in its integration of 1980s standards by numerous artists (such as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Oh Sherrie” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) into a busy storyline and endlessly fun in its unapologetic crudeness and self-mocking silliness.

A genuine sincerity also runs through “Rock of Ages,” as seen in the boy-meets-girl love story of would-be rocker Drew and would-be actress Sherrie and its nostalgia for feel-good rock anthems and the kind of grungy music venues that have been torn down in recent years.

The show is in far better shape now than when I caught it toward the end of the Broadway run. “Rock of Ages” is also more at home in an Off-Broadway venue, reflecting its sensibility as a smart-ass, foul-mouthed outlier selling Jell-O shots and making poop jokes.

The new cast is led by Mitchell Jarvis (recently seen in “Gettin’ the Band Back Together”), who originated the role of Lonny. While Jarvis eventually graduated to playing rock star Stacee Jaxx, he is far funnier and more memorable as Lonny, who helps manage the Bourbon Room and also serves as a pepped up and prancing narrator. He is joined by CJ Eldred and Kirsten Scott, who are appropriately cute and clueless as aspiring rocker Drew and aspiring actress Sherrie respectively.

As an extra perk, the show now finally includes some music by Def Leppard, which the producers were previously unable to license. The film adaptation of “Rock of Ages” is also briefly acknowledged and summarized by Jarvis as follows: “Tom Cruise had a monkey, which is … fun …” Right …

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