It rocks; but will it roll away with a Tony?

By Scott Harrah

Thematically hollow musical amuses

If your fondest memories of the 1980s are of getting drunk while listening to heavy metal and rock, “Rock of Ages” is the show for you. This flashy but thematically hollow jukebox musical, a hit when it premiered off-Broadway last year, celebrates the music of Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Journey, Styx, and others.  Anyone expecting an ironic twist on the 80s — like the Broadway adaptation of “Xanadu” — may be disappointed; but “Rock of Ages” delivers fun on a mindless nostalgic level with its string of rock oldies played by a live onstage band.

Everything about the musical is a gimmick — from the in-seat cocktails (buy a “drink chip” and a waiter will serve you booze during the show) to the kitschy “Rock of Ages” flashlights handed out at the door (to recreate those moments back in the day when you flicked a cigarette lighter during a Quiet Riot concert). Those expecting a thought-provoking look back at the 80s won’t find it here, but the show never tries to be anything but a formulaic excuse to weave a medley of such songs as REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” into a narrative.

Director Kristin Hanggi keeps everything moving along at an energetic pace, and makes Chris D’Arienzo’s semi-satirical book work in the all the right places. Beowulf Boritt’s exceptional sets, depicting everything from the Chateau Marmont to the infamous Angelyne billboard, make audiences feel like they are truly seeing Los Angeles in all its garish glory.

Former “American Idol” finalist Constantine Maroulis gives a serviceable performance as wanna-be rocker Drew, a guy who hangs out in the clubs on L.A.’s Sunset Strip and falls for aspiring actress Sherrie (the marvelous Amy Spanger). There’s little chemistry between Maroulis and Spanger, but it doesn’t matter because it’s all about the music. Nonetheless, Spanger, with her winning sense of innocence and lush, powerful voice, manages to overshadow the primarily male cast of mullet-haired rocker dudes.

The show’s true standout, besides Spanger, is Michelle Mais as Justice, the honey-voiced den mother of a trashy strip club. Somehow, Mais makes Poison’s forgettable “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” sound touching when she sings it like a torch ballad.

Kelly Devine’s sexually suggestive choreography makes this, easily, one of Broadway’s most lurid shows ever. Scenes in Justice’s strip club (featuring scantily clad dancers bumping and grinding in thongs) are far more graphic than what one sees today in hip-hop videos.  It’s this sense of outrageousness, however, that makes the show truly capture the excesses of the decade it depicts.