Even though one of the ruthless realities of rock ’n’ roll has always been the way it speeds up obsolescence, it’s still startling to see how poorly “Rock of Ages’’ has, well, aged.
The erratic production that has arrived at the Wang Theatre for a mercifully brief run is part of what is billed as a “Tenth Anniversary Tour’’ for “Rock of Ages,’’ which opened on Broadway in 2009, riding a wave of jukebox musicals.
Back then, “Rock of Ages’’ — which features songs from the likes of Foreigner, Journey, Pat Benatar, and Twisted Sister while telling a love story set in mid-1980s Hollywood — seemed like a harmless, deliberately silly romp, an excuse to give your brain the night off.
But during the near-decade since “Rock of Ages’’ debuted, the much-maligned genre of the jukebox musical has made attempts to up its game, raising the bar to a height “Rock of Ages’’ can’t clear. Whatever their levels of overall success, you can’t deny the streak of artistic ambition running through shows as various as “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,’’ “What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined,’’ and “Head Over Heels.’’ In recent months, a lavish, pop-song-driven production of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical’’ reopened Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre, and Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater debuted “Jagged Little Pill,’’ inspired by the edgy Alanis Morissette album.
Against that backdrop, “Rock of Ages’’ comes across as formulaic, dated, gimmicky, and lazy. The musical’s attempts at winking, fourth-wall-breaking meta humor — designed to let the audience know that the creators of “Rock of Ages’’ recognize the absurdity of the story they’re telling — don’t excuse the fact that the plot is exceedingly flimsy even by the low standards of jukebox musicals.
Because the wit-starved script is dominated by dialogue that serves less as a window into character than as an unwieldy bridge to the next song, there’s not a consistent flow between scenes. In a cultural moment shaped by Time’s Up and #MeToo, certain aspects of the musical’s depiction of women are jarringly retro — and it can’t entirely be explained as an evocation of the sexist 1980s rock-scene milieu.
To overcome all that, a cast has to be not just capable but special — and the cast of the current production is the former, not the latter.
As Drew, an aspiring rocker hoping for his big break while working in a Hollywood club called the Bourbon Room, Anthony Nuccio unfurls a supple, arena-ready voice, but he doesn’t have the poignancy, presence, or charisma of Constantine Maroulis, who originated the role and earned a Tony Award nomination.
Katie LaMark’s portrayal of Sherrie is hobbled by the limitations of her stereotypical, reductive role. After Sherrie’s blossoming relationship with Drew goes (implausibly) awry due to a misunderstanding, Sherrie promptly has sex in a restroom stall with a rock star, Stacee Jaxx (Sam Harvey), whom she’s just met, while the two of them sing “I Want to Know What Love Is.’’ (You can’t make this stuff up.) After Jaxx pressures Bourbon Room owner Dennis (Ryan M. Hunt) into firing Sherrie from her waitress job, “Rock of Ages’’ can’t think of anything more imaginative for Sherrie to do than work as an “exotic dancer’’ at the Venus Club, owned by Justice (Kenya Hamilton).
In an attempt by “Rock of Ages’’ to raise the stakes and generate some suspense, the Bourbon Room is threatened with demolition because a German developer, Hertz (Andrew Tebo), and his flamboyant son, Franz (Chris Renalds), are pushing a redevelopment plan in the area. Dennis hits on the idea of inviting Stacee Jaxx, who’s about to launch a solo career, to give his farewell performance with his band at the club. Here’s how the musical’s grating narrator, Lonny (John-Michael Breen), introduces Jaxx: “Yes, ladies love him. Guys want to be him. And his band? Well, they hate his guts. But he’s a star. And stars are undeniable. Like herpes.’’
Let’s grant the obvious: that “Rock of Ages’’ is about crowd-pleasing, not critic-pleasing. On the level of rock-concert performance rather than coherent musical theater, there are times when “Rock of Ages’’ delivers what the audience came to see and hear. The ensemble’s rousing, all-out performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ’’ makes for a killer finale.
But by that time, it felt to this member of the audience as if “Rock of Ages’’ had lasted not just an age, but an epoch.
ROCK OF AGES
Book by Chris D’Arienzo. Arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp. Choreographed by Janet Rothermel. Directed by Martha Banta. Presented by Boch Center and Madison Square Garden Company. At Boch Center Wang Theatre, Boston, through Oct. 28. Tickets $25-$125, 800-982-2787, www.bochcenter.org
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin