Book: Chris D’Arienzo
Director: Kristin Hanggi
Reviewer: Fran Winter
For one week in June, Bradford theatre audiences are transported back to 1987; to the sunset strip in Los Angeles, when hair was big, and glam metal was an exploding scene.
Rock of Ages tells the story of two young people seeking stardom in LA, set to a soundtrack of hits from the likes of Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison, Whitesnake and Twisted Sister. When small town Kansas girl Sherrie meets aspiring guitar god Drew, it’s love at first backcomb.
The subsidiary plot surrounds a couple of German real estate developers who want to demolish the strip and make it more ‘family friendly’ – prompting a rendition of Starship’s ‘We Built this City’with demonstrators carrying placards reading “Strip Clubs not Strip Malls!”Jack Lord (Hertz) and Cameron Sharp (Franz) play the greedy Germans, although Sharp’s comedic performance was tarnished slightly by over-acting which appears was part of the direction.
The set, designed by Beowulf Boritt, is simple but effective, centring around the Bourbon Room rock bar (the bras and pants pinned on the walls were a nice touch!).The production includes a live rock band on stage and this really makes the production what it is. Credit needs to be given to Pierce, Andy, Gary, Alex and Ashley, whose superb skill with their instruments and stage presence equal any great rock band.
Powerful rock anthems can be notoriously difficult to sing, especially with the right amount of grit needed, but the strong cast pull this off effortlessly. Noel Sullivan (Drew) of Popstars’ Hear’Say fame, wouldn’t be the most obvious casting for Rock Of Ages’ love interest Drew, but he proves himself with his fantastic voice and convincing acting. Cordelia Farnworth shone as the naïve Sherrie Christian. Her powerful voice hitting every note seamlessly with the required ferocity and Farnworth’s whimsical comedy timing had the audience warm to the shows heroine from the start.
Ben Richards, best known for his portrayal of Bruno in Footballers Wives, demonstrates his talents as a musical theatre performer in the rôle of sequin and white leather clad rock god Stacee Jaxx. It was refreshing to see that he didn’t try and emulate Tom Cruise’s performance in the film rôle, and made the part his own while also channelling Brett Michaels of Poison.
The performance is slick and seamless throughout, with quick scene, and skin tight leather clad/acid wash denim costume, changes. It is difficult however, at times, to follow the plot, as snippets of dialogue between songs were sometimes rushed or mumbled. It was if priority had been given to fitting as many rock songs as possible in to the show, at the detriment to, albeit a thin one, storyline.
The rest of the cast provides strong support, in particular the girls. Jessie May excelled at free spirited activist Regina and Abigail Climer’s voice, who was stepping in to the rôle of Justice Charlier for the evening, rivalled that of Mary J Blige.
Beautiful Imogen Brooke, Kylie Michelle Smith, Charlotte Anne Steen and Tara Verloop executed Kelly Devine’s choreography beautifully throughout the show, but also showed that they were equally talented actresses and singers.They definitely provided something for the male audience, with plenty of toned bum cheeks and candy coloured bras on show throughout the night.
The show is narrated throughout by Stephen Rahman Hughes’ character, Lonny (portrayed by Russell Brand in the film). The audience were with him throughout as he provided the main source of comedy during the show, pirouetting around the stage (yes really) in a series of trashy t-shirts, plenty of racy vulgar jokes, plugging holes in the plot, interacting with the audience and at one interlude, providing some banter with Noel Sullivan about his biography in the program.At times though it was difficult to hear what he was saying, as he does have a noticeable lisp, which could be slightly distracting.
Those who enjoyed the film version with Tom Cruise and Russell Brand may be a little disappointed that the story and characters do differ in places. However, the magic of Rock of Ages on the stage is that it creates the feeling of being at an arena rock concert, with some audience members getting in to the spirit by wearing Guns and Roses t-shirts, leather and mullet wigs.
The memorable musical numbers included ‘More than Words’, Ben Richard’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ and the final number of Act One ‘Here I Go Again’, had the audience on their feet and cheering appreciatively. The show’s soundtrack, songs such as ‘The Final Countdown’ and ‘We Built This City’, are not exactly the work of musical genius but these songs age so well, evoke memories and (most importantly) put a smile on your face.The best number was definitely saved until last when the whole cast sang ‘Don’t Stop Believin’. The Alhambra theatre became Madison Square Gardens as every audience member, young and old, got on their feet, dancing in the stalls and waving their hands in the air. It was a rousing finish to an enjoyable night of cheesy rock; which, for anyone who enjoys partaking in the odd air guitar rift to a classic power ballad and a feel good sing-along, will not be a disappointment.
Runs until: 28th June 2014