By THE ENTHUSIAST
The Jukebox Musical That Lived
Jukebox musicals are to theatre what boy bands are to pop. And just as only one or two boy bands were ever really worth listening to (The Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, maybe that group that Robbie Williams used to be part of back in the 90s), Rock Of Ages is one of the few musicals born of a Wurlitzer that’s actually worth seeing. Written by Chris D'Arienzo and first staged out west in a bar on Hollywood Boulevard, Rock Of Ages opened on Broadway in 2009. It ran for six glam-packed years, and recently came back for a tenth-anniversary victory lap. Rock Of Ages works because it’s a jukebox musical that knows it’s a jukebox musical, and knows that we know, and doesn’t give a fig.
Mitchell Jarvis originated the role of Lonny, the show’s host and narrator, a decade back when it opened on Broadway. More than 1200 performances later (to paraphrase Carlotta Campion in Follies, a show to which Rock Of Ages is rarely compared), he’s still here. But unlike James Tyrone in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (another play that you’ll seldom find sharing a sentence with Rock Of Ages), playing the same role for all that time hasn’t robbed him of the will to live. He’s willing. And lively. And simply a hoot.
Katie Webber One of the pleasures of live theatre is discovering a standout in the ensemble. The leads are always soaking up the spotlight, declaiming this or belting out that. So to shine as a member of the chorus, one has to amp up one's awesomeness to 11. Katie Webber (Waitress #1) does that here. Deliciously fierce and endlessly energetic, Webber far outstrips any waitress of The Enthusiast's acquaintance. Clearly The Enthusiast needs to spend more time on Hollywood Boulevard.
Just about every hair-metal band you can imagine agreed to play along and license their songs for use in the original Rock Of Ages. Def Leppard did not. Ten years on, however, they’ve allowed the use of both the title song and "Pour Some Sugar On Me." Given that Def Leppard (inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year) hardly needs the money, this change of heart must surely reflect a newfound love for musical theatre. Lead singer Joe Elliott summed it up neatly in an interview with The New York Times: “People are going to go, ‘Ah, it’s good enough for you now but it wasn’t then.’ Well, yeah. That’s exactly right.” Can’t say fairer than that, mate.
A Sippy-Cup-Free Zone
The Enthusiast could easily jot down Five Things To Love About New World Stages, but will note just one for now: it’s one of the very few theatres in the city that lets you bring a beer to your seat – that is to say, an actual can of beer, not a plastic sippy-cup. The sound of black plastic lids being snapped onto logo-emblazoned cups at the crush bar became part of the Broadway melody two decades ago, and frankly it’s time for a pushback. We’re not gonna take it. No – we ain’t gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it anymore.
The Enthusiast (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. But what he declines to praise can speak volumes.