Book: Chris D’Arienzo
Arrangements and Orchestrations: Ethan Popp
Director and Choreographer: Nick Winston
Time to dig out the Jukebox list: Lovers? Check. Back catalogue of a specified genre’s finest? Check. Business Tycoon seeking to crush dreams? Ja. A flamboyantly fabulous narrator? You bet your ass. But is Rock of Ages more than that? Is it really the Mamma Mia for the dads some think it to be? Well, appearances can be deceptive. And for all the glory of the Sunset Strip the show pledges, there’s a dream for everyone down at the famous Bourbon Room.
But dreams are made for changing – they’re funny little things, either sloppy and wet or hard and unyielding. Maybe, this is why rock wannabe Drew (Sam Turrell) is finding it hard to achieve his desire of holding centre-stage at the most insane gigs he can. Maybe his dream, instead, happens to be outside the Bourbon Room, currently being mugged, on their way to becoming an Actress.
Enough to make a nun blush, Rock of Ages is not without its risqué and, yes, we’d be loathed not to mention, more troublesome aspects of representation. But this is somewhat off-kilter by the recognition of such, and the very fact that Chris D’Arienzo’s book is one of the most self-aware musical productions there is. In a quest for identity, it’s pretty fitting that Rock of Ages has no problems slathering itself in sex appeal, Queer coded joviality, and enough leather to open a brothel.
With so few (only three principal female characters), the impact the women make is still spectacular – and no, not just for the more ‘revealing’ reasons. Stepping to the role of ‘mother’ of the gentleman’s Club Justice, Phoebe Samuel-Gray is an absolute treat, with superb vocals and control of the stage which forces any man around her to cower at Justice’s feet – and she isn’t even charging extra this time. Likewise, country lady and protagonist Sherrie is captured remarkably by Gabriella Williams as overly trusting, but with a distinctly clear sense of drive and character, and one hell of an engaging heart to catch the audience’s support.
Maestro of mayhem, narr-a-tor, and all-around charmingly pleasing fellow (in all aspects…), Lonny should, on paper, fall flat on his face. The writing, whilst nothing terrible, certainly leans into expectant tropes of musical theatre, and the breaking of the fourth wall, but for every Andrew Lloyd Sondheim (or was it Stephen Webber?), there’s a far wittier spin on the idea. Enter Joe Gash. Who turns Lonny from storytelling to star, without question the production’s finest asset alongside the ever so charming Kevin Kennedy as bar owner Dennis Dupree, bringing in the earthy notes the show otherwise misses during I Can’t Fight This Feeling.
The interweaving of musicality and rock is a delicate process – the pair suit one another expertly, with the storytelling mechanics bolstering the emotive narratives and aggression of rock. But often performers can find themselves lacking in the attitudes of supposed Rockstars – and here’s where Stacee Jaxx, Rock legend extraordinaire and ‘babe’ magnet, comes apart. His presence doesn’t lend itself favourably to Stacee, who comes over as a boy you’d introduce to your mother, rather than the sex-crazed leader of Rock band Arsenal. While Turrell, as our wannabe star Drew, is frankly underestimated in his clarity, authority, and astonishing ability to hold key notes for, what is, a troublingly long amount of time – enough to cause brief snippets of character break in co-stars out of genuine awe during The Search is Over.
If at some point through the evening though your blood isn’t pumping, or your leg itching to dance, or haven’t even raised a smirk – chances are you’d be better off spending an evening with The Times. Where Rock of Ages has a few rough edges, it never places itself as a saviour or poignant peace, rather it thrives on its own denim clad glory – urine and beer stains et al.
Runs until 14 May 2022 | Image: Richard Davenport