Writer: Chris D’Arienzo
Director: Nick Winston
Reviewer: Clare White
Two things are integral to 1980s Hollywood – big dreams and big hair. In The Bourbon Club on LA’s Sunset Strip small town girl Sherrie meets city boy Drew, both desperately searching for their big break. Aspirations of stardom and double denim collide as the pair fall in love; however, the course of true love never did run smoothly, not least when sleazy rock star Stacee Jaxx sets his sets on wholesome Sherrie and The Bourbon is threatened with demolition. Cue the crushing of hearts and dreams all round.
Rock of Ages boasts a raucous score of 80s glam rock classics, including We Built This City, Dead or Alive and Don’t Stop Believin’, all played live on stage by talented actor-musicians. The show is debauched, outrageous and seriously cheesy, but that’s kind of the point – this is a jukebox musical mocking its own clichés. The nonsense, paper-thin plot and critic-bashed 2012 film version is even ridiculed by narrator Lonny, who breaks the fourth wall straight away, picking out a poor unsuspecting lady in the front row (Hi Jackie!) and cheekily acknowledging her throughout the show.
While best watched with tongue firmly in cheek, to say the action is a bit near the knuckle is putting it mildly. The German property developers planning to knock down the club are stereotyped to the max, complete with goose-step and Hitler impression. Then there is the degrading sexualisation of women. In one of many uncomfortable scenes, Sherrie is seduced by Stacee Jaxx in the club toilets (really) and then finds herself sacked and forced to work in a strip club. On the whole, women are portrayed as objects, existing only as underwear-clad waitresses or strippers. It’s all a bit charmless, and not particularly amusing.
That aside, the music is enjoyable and there are genuinely funny moments – many of them thanks to Lucas Rush, who steals the show as the effervescent Lonny. Every sarcastic line delivery, exaggerated movement and wink to the audience is brilliantly timed. His comedic interactions with the audience add a pantomime element to proceedings, and the show is all the better for it.
The cast works hard to squeeze every ounce humour, vigour and joy out of (as Lonny puts it) Whitesnake songs and poo gags. Luke Walsh and Danielle Hope make a great pairing as young dreamers Drew and Sherrie, both have impressive voices and share convincing chemistry. Kevin Kennedy, aka Coronation Street’s Curly Watts does a fun Ozzy Osbourne-esque portrayal of club owner Dennis and Sam Ferriday successfully makes depraved, egocentric rocker Jaxx both captivating and repelling in equal measure. Zoe Birkett gives a stunningly soulful vocal performance as strip club owner Justice: it’s a shame she doesn’t get more stage time to let rip. Her duet with Hope, Harden My Heart, is particularly good.
Rock of Ages is not for the faint hearted – there is more pelvic thrusting and buttocks on display than Birmingham has ever seen on a Tuesday night (probably). However, the energy from the cast is impressive, and the mix of nonsense, naughtiness and 80s nostalgia means the ‘so wrong it’s right’ rock parody just about pulls it off.
Runs Until 17 November 2018 and on tour | Image: Richard Davenport