Book: Chris D’Arienzo
Director/Choreographer: Nick Winston
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
Are you ready to rock? The audience at Manchester Opera House are, as this smash hit musical returns to the UK. Shaking the foundations of every theatre it lands in with it’s “turned up to the max” music.
Rock of Ages is an LA love story set to over 25 classic rock anthems. Drew (Luke Walsh) is a nice guy who wants to be a rock star. Sherrie (Danielle Hope) also has dreams of making a success for herself; dreams as big as everyone’s hair at the time. They both fall in love, there is miscommunication and a fallout, and then they get back together again.
All this takes place on the famous Sunset Strip, between two clubs: The Bourbon Room and Venus. Narrated by Lonny (Lucas Rush), this is a Jukebox Musical which doesn’t take itself seriously. In the best possible way, the musical doesn’t care how it comes across, they know we’re all here for some fabulous fun and escapism.
Much of the hilarity in this musical comedy comes from the deliberate intention to make the story and characters cheesy, predictable, and second rate. Hence, Lonny’s line, “Now, I’m no Andrew Lloyd Sondheim”. But the music, singing, and concert staging is first class. There are classic, epic songs including; We Built This City, The Final Countdown, Here I Go Again, Can’t Fight this Feeling, and I Want To Know What Love Is all played by a live band actor-musicians.
That doesn’t mean to say the story doesn’t have a heart to it: the messages of writing from the heart, growing up and finding yourself, and learning just to let go are all uplifting and relatable. The breaking of the fourth wall works on reflection because it adds to the concert-style experience.
The cast understands the performance style that is required for this show – the characters are more like caricatures with lots of energy and flair. Rush excels in this show: he is funny, personable, and completely at ease in his role. Walsh plays a convincing Drew, marking the transition between nice guy to rock star. He has a versatile singing voice: singing gently one minute and then with strength and edginess the next. The rock screams are superb. Hope’s Sherrie is full of spirit and by the end her character learns what love really is. Powerhouse vocals come from Zoe Birkett in the role of Justice, if her voice were any louder the roof would have caved in. A gorgeous and soulful voice.
As mentioned, the set is essentially concert-like, as designed by Morgan Large. You lose count over the amount of speakers onstage. The intentionally naff-looking set pieces such as: a cardboard cutout pineapple tree and a little motorbike are hilarious to look at. Just feel-good fun. The stage smoke not only creates a rock concert feel, but emulates the cigarette smoke in the bars. Lighting designer, Ben Cracknell has created a fiery design that drives the crowd wild.
By the end, the characters learn some wise advice: “you can’t just wish for something, you have to go out there and get it”, and “the dreams you go into something with may not be the same when you leave”. Go and see this show and feel the rock and roll love.
Runs until 29 September 2018 | Image: Richard Davenport