Writer: Chris D’Arienzo
Director: Nick Winston
Reviewer: Hannah Powell
Depicting the birth and survival of the legacy of rock culture on the famous Sunset Blvd, Rock of Ages bursts onto the stage showing musical fans and rockers alike there is no one set way to make a musical. Featuring classic rock songs like Cum On Feel the Noize, We Built This City, and The Final Countdown, Chris D’Arienzo’s book is brought to life in bright lights, loud live music, and actors determined to break audiences of their ingrained theatre etiquette and get them to let loose and rock out.
It is a story of love, conflict, and corruption with a plot line driven along by the popular sounds of classic 80s rock. Set on Sunset Strip in The Bourbon Room, inspired by one of the most famous clubs on the strip, Whisky-A-Go-Go, we follow the story of Sherrie and Drew. Sherrie (played by Jodie Steele) is a small-town girl looking to make it big as an actress against the wishes of her parents. As can be expected and seems to be the stereotypical trope for those moving to the big city, she gets robbed within seconds of being there and meets Drew (played by Luke Walsh), a young barman hoping to make it big as rock star Wolfgang Von Cult.
There is an instant connection between the pair, a slow-burning love as they begin working together at the club until on a hill at sunset drinking wine coolers Drew ruins his chances by labelling Sherrie as a ‘friend’. Enter Stacey Jaxx (Antony Costa), Rockstar extraordinaire on the crux of his solo career who seduces the naïve Sherrie and puts the story onto a different unexpected path.
Meanwhile, another seduction is happening between the Mayor and two German investors looking to tear down the Sunset Strip and drive out the hoodlums and anarchy caused by the rise in rock music. The audience is brought right along as citizens protest for days on end, as Sherrie is brought into the darker side of LA, and Drew discovers where corruption lies in the music industry.
Steele gives a phenomenal performance as Sherrie, capturing the innocence of a country girl, pushing all the emotion needed into her voice and fully embodying a woman who’s suffered through nearly everything life can throw at her. Walsh is equally as good opposite her with a vocal style and tone suited to the rock genre and a face to accurately portray the boyish charm which comes along with being a young dreamer.
Coronation Street star Kevin Kennedy steals the show as club owner Dennis Dupris, balancing old rocker with grumpy man perfectly. It is almost as if this rôle was made specifically for him with his raspy singing voice and comedic timing. However, credit cannot be taken away from our campy slightly perverted narrator Lonny played by Lucas Rush, without whom the show simply would not work. He provides instant comic relief to intense situations with impeccable comedic timing and comes up with numerous ways to keep the audience entertained during long scene changes.
The one issue with the performance is the cleanness of some of the singing. Obviously, these are actors with classically trained voices and asking them to throw that training out of the window and strain their voices by singing heavy rock songs eight performances a week is close to impossible, yet rock is supposed to be dirty, loud, full of screaming and voice cracks. On the positive side what this does do is introduce theatre audiences to a different genre in a more palatable manner, merging musical and rock together in harmony.
At its very core, Rock of Ages feels like it was written for those who have almost completely given up on theatre or are adamant that theatre has nothing to offer them. So those with family members who love rock but have never set foot in a theatre, this show is your chance to drag them along and show them what theatre can be.
Runs Until 1 June 2019 and on tour | Image: Richard Davenport