Book: Chris D’Arienzo
Director: Nick Winston
To say Rock of Ages is a jukebox musical is a bit like saying the Statue of Liberty is quite tall. Rock of Ages is a loud, bright, sparkling, 80s-themed musical experience. While it has a more substantial story than many such shows, where it really scores over the mass of jukebox musicals is the way it doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The fourth wall isn’t so much breached as demolished and the cheesy tongue-in-cheek jokes are accompanied by metaphorical huge knowing winks that defuse any that might stray a little too near the knuckle. Overall, it’s a foot-stomping riot of colour and sound that assaults the senses without let up.
Set on the 1980s Sunset Strip, the story has familiar threads in it: we have bad-guy property developers threatening the kids’ hangouts – reminiscent of the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi – leading to a parody of protest and a David and Goliath battle; a narcissistic rocker; an aspiring actress new in town; a would-be rocker … the familiar list goes on. The ending is telegraphed well in advance, with a couple of twists and ultimately redemption for all. In a rare moment of philosophical seriousness, our narrator, Lonny, concludes that the dreams with which you enter the Strip are not always the dreams with which you leave. But they still rock!
There’s a decent-sized ensemble, each member of which gets time in the spotlight. They demonstrate powerful, note-perfect singing and perform the athletic 80s-inspired choreography with apparent ease, accompanied by talented rock musicians upstage. Central to the whole is Lonny (Joe Gash). Rarely offstage, he is a veritable dynamo, a natural comedian and raconteur. Flirting outrageously with cast and audience alike, Gash drives the show and maintains its momentum. Luke Walsh’s Drew seeks fame and fortune as a rock star. Walsh brings a vulnerability to Drew, even a sweetness, in his faltering romance with Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman). Chesterman and Walsh do make their budding romance, with its twists and turns believable. Vas Constanti and Andrew Carthy bring us comic book German bad-guys, while a single powerful note from Jenny Fitzpatrick as the owner of a gentlemen’s club is enough to drive spontaneous applause.
Strictly darling, Kevin Clifton, stars as Stacee Jaxx, aging, narcissistic rock star with an eye for the ladies. It’s no surprise Clifton has the swivel-hipped moves, but it’s good to see he can also carry a tune as he plays Jaxx massively OTT.
Morgan Large’s set is easily able to transform between locations with bright, even harsh, lighting designed by Ben Cracknell that is reminiscent of the gigs of 80s supergroups. But the real star of Rock of Ages is the music, with nostalgic banger after banger rolled out to the delight of the audience, supported by the period choreography of Nick Winston, ensuring a night of spectacle – even if the battle between vocalists and band is occasionally an unequal one.
Rock of Ages is an unashamedly feelgood musical that has you humming the tunes even as your ears ring on the way home.
Runs until 11 September 2021 and touring