Rock of Ages at New World Stages
Review by Mo Brady
Welcome home, denizens of the Bourbon Room. It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago, Rock of Ages first came on the scene. Since making its debut in 2009, its become a surprise theatre darling spawning a multi-year run on Broadway, multiple tours and regional sit-down productions and a… decent movie version helmed by Tom Cruise.
The small stage was always where Rock of Ages thrived, so bringing the show back to its original home at New World Stages for a summer season is a fantastic homecoming.
In its raucous opening, Kelly Devine’s choreography gives a masterclass on how to make a stage seem brimming with energy with only five ensemble performers. Revisiting her work, we see glimpses of the efficient, but ecstatic movement that she later created for Escape to Margaritaville and Come From Away.
This off-Broadway remounting features multiple alumni from the original Broadway production. Channeling “Emcee in Cabaret” vibes, Mitchell Jarvis continues to bring remarkable energy to the role of Lonny. He is perfectly matched by Matt Ban as Dennis, who brings the perfect measure of knowing glee to his performance after playing the role on Broadway and on tour.
Also returning to it is ensemblist extraordinare Katie Webber. While the name of her character (Waitress #1) has always been an inside joke of sorts, the track is arguably one of the most demanding and featured ensemble roles of the 21st Century. While Ms. Webber’s talents exceed the requirements of the role, Waitress #1 also feel like the character she was born to play. Her consistent full-out energy and searing vocals still feel perfectly suited for Rock of Ages, even nine years after she first played the role on Broadway.
Joining Webber in the female ensemble are Ashley E. Matthews and Leah Read. A veteran of the show’s Las Vegas sit down, Matthews also brings the perfect alchemy to her performance, shining in particular as reporter Constance Sack. And Read puts whirling dervishes to shame in her Act I feature as Dream Sherrie.
The role of (non-Dream) Sherrie has always been a conduit for New York audiences to meet future leading ladies of the musical theatre. During its Broadway tenure, we were introduced (or re-introduced) to talents like Kate Rockwell, Rebecca Faukenberry and Carrie St. Louis. Kirsten Scott contributes this trend, combining a winning energy and powerhouse vocals in her portrayal of the “small town girl.”
When I saw the production in previews, some actors still needed to figure out how to ride the wave of energy required to mass production. However, they seem capable in their roles and I’m sure in later weeks will find their groove.
This was not my first time taking in “good time “at Rock of Ages. (In fact, it probably wasn’t my fifth time either.) But hopefully it won’t be my last as it's a show that ripens with age - like a good bourbon.