Journey to Broadway: Rock of Ages

Laura Kusnyer

Don't stop believing, New York City. Broadway is alive and kicking—and at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, it's even straddling the occasional chair. Mamma Mia! might own the '70s with Abba, but Broadway newbie Rock of Ages rules the '80s—from Journey to REO Speedwagon to Pat Benatar. Sound like fun? That's because it is.

A recent addition to the Great White Way from Off-Broadway, Rock of Ages channels the decadent party spirit of LA's Sunset Strip in 1987 through some provocative "grit-under-your-fingernails" costumes (as director Kristin Hanggi puts it), an elaborate dive-bar-meets-rock-club set and a slew of hair-band hits—including a fist-pumping rendition of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis stars alongside Off-Broadway vet Amy Spanger and a handful of other charismatic players—like the show's onstage narrator, Mitchell Jarvis (Lonny).

"There are no rules for my character," Jarvis chuckles, remembering a Rock experience from Off-Broadway. "Once a T-shirt got thrown into my face at the end of act one, so we took it backstage, cut the sleeves off, and I wore it at the top of act two." As Lonny, his delivery is both David Lee Roth and Jack Black, a style that seduces viewers into interacting with the performance—which is, essentially, the point. "We want the audience to sing back to the cast," says Jeff Davis, one of Rock's producers. "We're taking it to a whole new level of feel-good."

One of the show's feel-good stars, Mötley Crüe fan James Carpinello (Stacee Jaxx), recognizes that viewers deserve some fun in their lives these days: "In times of economic distress, it's imperative that there is something to lift your spirits—and this does just that." Carpinello will entertain you—he does the Axl Rose snake dance on command—but he assures that Rock is more than meets the ears: "There's an emotional journey. People hear ''80s hair band' and think, This is gonna be stupid, but there's a really great story that catches people off guard."

So what is the story? "My character's a good guy from the Midwest," says Maroulis. "He's got that talent, but he hasn't had someone to bring it out of him yet—until he meets Sherrie (Spanger) and falls head-over-heels in love with her." Even though the show is set in Los Angeles, Carpinello argues that the plot could just as easily take place in NYC: "This is the story of people coming from a small place to a bigger place and trying to fit in—which is what most people who come to New York City have to do."

Maroulis, who lives in Gramercy, is a believer in NYC's '80s spirit, circa 2009: "When I party at Tenjune, they play hip-hop, and then—boom—the '80s comes on: Guns N' Roses into 'Jessie's Girl' into 'I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight.' People love that, and we're trying to create that atmosphere in the show." Some energetic choreography from Kelly Devine (associate choreographer of the Tony Award–winning Jersey Boys) doesn't hurt, nor does the laid-back attitude of Rock's creators and performers. Rock writer Chris D'Arienzo isn't shy to admit that the show "lovingly lampoons the ridiculousness of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle," while funnyman Jarvis says with a belly laugh, "It's not meant to be taken seriously—so it's right up my alley."

If you like good, er, not-so-clean fun, Rock of Ages will be right up your alley as well—and these days, even the price is right. "We've lowered ticket prices," says Maroulis. "Come, have a good time and celebrate a time when you had no worries—no problems, man—and just embrace that."

Find out where to rock in New York City with recommendations from Constantine Maroulis and director Kristin Hanggi.