It's not often that a musical's narrator interrupts the show to mock its formulaic book and simple humor.
That's what happens in Chris D'Arienzo's high-energy, low-IQ spectacle "Rock of Ages," the latest jukebox musical to hit Broadway.
This lighthearted, comedic production faithfully retreads 1980s rock classics, performed by a talented cast and a potent house band. Throw in an arena-style light show and it all makes for a lively night at the theater.
It just happens to be unabashedly shallow and mostly unoriginal, as the narrator points out.
Perhaps D'Arienzo can afford to be self-deprecating about his writing, considering "Rock of Ages" should benefit from a built-in audience, few of whom are likely to buy tickets on the promise of his book.
The main appeal of this musical, which opened Tuesday at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, lies in the rock anthems and power ballads that remain entrenched in mainstream consciousness decades after they topped the charts.
The hodgepodge of radio hits includes Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," to name a few.
These perennial mixed-tape favorites are stitched together loosely to form a flimsy, though continuous, theatrical piece that culminates in a full-ensemble performance of "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, a highlight of the two-act program.
D'Arienzo's story is set in 1987 on West Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Drew and Sherrie are aspiring stars who fall in love to a soundtrack of Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" and, of course, Steve Perry's "Oh, Sherrie."
An evil developer wants to tear down the local club and instigates a showdown with defiant rockers. Cue "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister and Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."
Constantine Maroulis leads a solid cast with an impressively natural performance as Drew, the fledgling rock star. Maroulis displays the sterling voice and easy, engaging presence that made him a favorite on TV's "American Idol." He has appeared on Broadway in "The Wedding Singer" and off-Broadway in last year's production of "Rock of Ages" at New World Stages.
Maroulis is complemented by the talented Amy Spanger in the role of Sherrie, the naive actress turned exotic dancer. Spanger, whose Broadway credits include "The Wedding Singer," "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Chicago," is perhaps the cast's most polished, all-around performer.
Mitchell Jarvis provides welcome comic relief as Lonny the sound guy, who doubles as the narrator. Jarvis is responsible for many of the funnier moments in the show's otherwise uneven comedy.
"Rock of Ages" should satisfy nostalgists with a penchant for '80s kitsch, but its lack of depth makes it unlikely to impress a wider audience.