Writer: Chris D’Arienzo
Arranger and Orchestrator: Ethan Popp
Director and Choreographer: Nick Winston
Part rock concert, part burlesque show, part pantomime, and taking the excesses and bad fashion decisions of the 1980s and dialling them up to eleven, Rock of Ages is as subtle as a kick to the crotch.
With a simple fairy tale-style story, lots of fourth-wall-breaking, plenty of self-referential jokes and actors regularly stepping out of character, Rock of Ages is as close to a musical theatre equivalent of panto as anything else. However the skimpy costumes, bawdy humour and whiffs of misogynism and racism in the (admittedly frequently funny) script, mean that this is definitely not one for the kiddies. However there is still a lot to enjoy here – in a hen / stag party sort of way.
The story follows small town boy and girl Drew and Sherrie who meet in the big city – namely Los Angeles – and fall in, out and back in love. Meanwhile an evil property developer is threatening to demolish the Sunset Strip and destroy the city’s heritage, in particular the Bourbon Room, a grimy music venue with a rich history. This is all played out accompanied by classic 1980s rock songs and embraces everything big and loud about the era.
The name on the marquee for this production is Strictly’s Kevin Clifton as famous rocker Stacee Jaxx. The role is not much more than an extended cameo and despite displaying great overall talent in all departments, Clifton feels miscast in the part which perhaps requires someone larger and more imposing in physical stature. Rhiannon Chesterman is a lovely, perky Sherrie who still manages to deliver emotion when needed, and Luke Walsh does well in the extremely under-written role of Drew, displaying impressive vocals. Joe Gash plays Lonny, the narrator and emcee of the evening. Gash brings lots of energy and flamboyance but a one-note, sing-song line delivery often makes his presence grating, unfortunate when this is the character that has the most to do and has all the best lines. Bringing a little subtlety to proceedings is Ross Dawes as aging hippy bar owner Dennis, and although he gets a little lost in the noise to begin with, he quickly establishes himself as one of the stronger performers here. Far from subtle but equally impressive is Vas Constanti as the German villain Hertz, and even more outrageous is Andrew Carthy who pretty much steals the show as Franz, and who along with Gabriella Williams’ Regina delivers the supremely silly Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Bringing some soul (in more ways than one) to proceedings is Jenny Fitzpatrick as Justice, stopping the show with her vocals in Any Way You Want It.
The fixed set evokes a rock concert with simple additions to denote scene changes. This leads to a pretty slick pace that never lets up, although the constant presence of an enormous screen above the set that is never utilised is puzzling. There are a lot of impressive lighting effects on display and although there are some amusing (scripted) issues with lighting cues and positioning, at the press performance there was also a lot of unscripted lighting blunders that seem to stem from carelessness or lack of rehearsal. Musically the show is great and the small but talented band is clearly having a rocking good time. However, when musicians are having fun, their volume tends to increase, and the show is plagued with sound balancing issues, particularly in the many scenes when dialogue is underscored.
This production of Rock of Ages is flashy and fun, but also feels a little hollow and dispensable. However, even the most cynical of audience members will not fail to be swept up by the show’s gloriously feed-good finale set to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing.
Runs until 27th November 2021