Gratuitous Violins rating: * out of ****
Well, I can't say I wasn't warned. I knew before I bought my (discounted, thankfully) ticket that Rock of Ages was a loud and not very good musical.
But I had a Monday night slot to fill on my trip to New York and I wanted to see something new. I'd seen the cast of Rock of Ages perform on Live with Regis and Kelly, and I listened to them on the Playbill Radio podcast and the show sounded like fun.
You know when you get really excited about seeing a movie based on the trailer and then realize that 2 1/2 minutes was the sum total of all the good parts? That's kind of how I felt with this musical.
The book, by Chris D'Arienzo, certainly had potential: a would-be rock star (Constantine Maroulis) and an aspiring actress (Amy Spanger) fall in love in Los Angeles. At the same time, a fabled Sunset Strip rock club is about to be torn down by an unscrupulous developer, (Paul Schoeffler).
There's an aging, lecherous '80s rock star with big hair (James Carpinello) who's brought in to try and save the day and a wickedly funny narrator (Mitchell Jarvis, who seemed to be doing a Jack Black impression.)
But Rock of Ages just felt kind of flat and crude instead of clever and inspired - more Spamalot than Spinal Tap. (Disliked the former, liked the latter.) This is one of those shows where everyone else around me was laughing and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, while I might have chuckled a few times.
Spanger is spunky and Maroulis is sweet and appealing. And I don't even mind cliches and a predictable plot if I care about the characters. But honestly, I didn't really care all that much about them.
Part of it was, I saw the show stone-cold sober while many of my fellow audience members took advantage of the in-seat drink service. (I think the couple sitting next to me had at least four beers apiece.)
Plus, loud doesn't even begin to describe the decibel level of this musical. Even before the show started, from the moment I walked into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, the sound was overwhelming.
Now, I'll admit I couldn't name a Whitesnake song to save my life. Still, I was looking forward to hearing some familiar 1980s songs made famous by Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar, among others.
But Rock of Ages doesn't present them in a way that made them all that interesting, just loud. And it seemed like they didn't even play the full version of the songs.
Still, I don't think it was a total waste. If I hadn't gone, I would have wondered whether I was missing something. And like my blogging buddy Chris says, you have to see a lot of shows to separate the wheat from the chaff, to know what works and what doesn't.
I'll just chalk this one up to experience - one of the less-successful chapters in my ongoing musical-theatre education. Judging from the reaction at the performance I saw, Rock of Ages has a fan base. But it wasn't for me.