ComedyDramaMusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Rock of Ages – Darlington Hippodrome

Book: Chris D’Arienzo

Arrangements & Orchestrations: Ethan Popp

Director & Choreographer: Nick Winston

With the clarity of hindsight, anyone who lived through the 1980s will no doubt be able to now admit that it was a pretty silly decade. Big hair, big shoulder pads, embarrassing fashions: just plain silly. Rock of Ages, a musical celebrating the era and its music takes this silliness and (like its spiritual predecessor This is Spinal Tap) ramps it up to eleven. In fact, this particular production could be the silliest yet with director Nick Winston taking every opportunity to inject more comedy than the script contains, even during tender love ballads. The result is a shallow yet wild and entertaining show that delivers opportunities for the audience to laugh and rock out in equal measure.

Having won BBC’s Over the Rainbow to take the lead role in The Wizard of Oz at London Palladium in 2010, Danielle Hope here plays Sherrie, and with some very un-Dorothy like moves on a greased pole in the skimpiest of outfits, manages to prove that she isn’t in Kansas anymore. Hope further proves her versatility with some rocking vocals although she retains the lovable charm that made her a star in the first place. Opposite her as Drew is Luke Walsh whose natural charisma and fantastic voice make him perfect in the role as the main protagonist. Walsh is definitely a name to look out for: he deserves a great future.

The rest of the cast is strong if a little uneven. Zoe Birkett makes a big impact in the small role of Justice as does Rhiannon Chesterman as Regina, and while Andrew Carthy is obviously having great fun as the wildly camp Franz, however Sam Ferriday makes surprisingly little impact as superstar Stacee Jaxx: a role that usually steals the show. Likewise Kevin Kennedy of Coronation Street fame is rather overshadowed as Dennis, although if your wish is to see Curly Watts drop F-bombs while dressed as a hippy, this is the perfect opportunity.

However, the runaway star of this production is Lucas Rush as Lonny. Hot from his acclaimed turn as Mrs Meers in the recent UK tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Rush’s almost constant presence on stage is a master class in characterisation, comedy business and how to work an audience. His performance is amazing, hugely elevating this production and is worth the admission price alone.

Technically the show is slick with minimal set, the now obligatory large screen for animated projections and a whole lot of very bright lights. As with many shows of this type, the band’s wish to rock the rafters often causes sound imbalances, while the generally effective lighting sometimes detracts instead of compliments the action. Winston’s comedy direction is very strong although it sometimes risks veering into panto territory, and while his choreography is fitting, it’s never anything particularly outstanding. However, the overall package is a strong one and just like the eighties themselves, ends up being superficial but extremely fun!

Runs until 13th October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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