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'Rock of Ages' review: It's back and even better with Def Leppard spots

PJ Griffith plays Stacee Jaxx in the 10th

PJ Griffith plays Stacee Jaxx in the 10th anniversary production of "Rock of Ages" at New World Stages. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

WHAT "Rock of Ages"

WHERE New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.

INFO Tickets, from $59, at 212-239-6200, telecharge.com

BOTTOM LINE Tenth anniversary production of the '80s jukebox musical is still a crowd pleaser.

Don't stop believin', indeed. For its 10th anniversary production at Off-Broadway's New World Stages, the musical "Rock of Ages" got something it never had before — the right to use the title song in the show.

Def Leppard had famously withheld permission to use its music until now, but it seems the unarguable success of the show — six years on Broadway followed by productions all over the world, including in Las Vegas and on an ocean liner, and a 2012 movie starring Tom Cruise — caused them to rethink. Band frontman Joe Elliott echoed words from the script when he told The New York Times, "there isn't a person alive that's never changed their mind." 

The show remains true to its '80s rock roots, a loud, raunchy parody of the decade (think big hair and plenty of spandex). It's more concert than musical, with a hit parade of Billboard toppers by the likes of Journey, Bon Jovi and a pair of Long Islanders, Pat Benatar and Dee Snider. The loose story holding it all together (emphasis on loose) involves The Bourbon Room, an L.A. nightclub facing the wrecking ball when a German developer persuades the mayor the city needs to clean up the Sunset Strip's reputation as a haven for "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." 

One of the joys of this reunion production is the ebullient, over-the-top performance of Mitchell Jarvis, who reprises Lonny, the role he originated on Broadway and, according to his Playbill bio, has performed more than 1,200 times. He’s joined by a cast of powerful vocalists with standouts including CJ Eldred as wannabe rock star Drew; Kirsten Scott as Sherrie, the girl who doesn’t get on the midnight train, and Tiffany Engen (playing city planner Regina) and Dane Biren (the developer's son, Franz). Engen and Biren really knock it out of the park with Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," in full Richard Simmons regalia no less (costumes by Gregory Gale). The production, with just a few updates (Anthony Weiner's name has been dropped), also brings back most of the original Broadway production team, including director Kristin Hanggi and choreographer Kelly Devine.   

The show remains what it always has been — a crowd-pleaser with no serious theatrical ambitions. For many parents in the audience, it's a great chance to give their kids a taste of the stuff they'd listened to back in the day (you know, when we were cool, too). I loved watching two teens in front of me be suitably impressed when Mom and Dad knew all the words to the Journey anthem "Don't Stop Believin' " that brings the show to a rousing finish. Priceless. 

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