Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages is a modern day musical theatre phenomenon; it ran for a record breaking 2328 performances on Broadway, has toured in more than 30 countries and spawned a 2012 movie. Now it is back on UK stages, opened at Darlington Hippodrome, and guarantees to rock you in, and out of your seats.
Packed full of iconic rock songs, this is the musical equivalent to time travelling for anyone who was around in the 80’s (or anyone younger who just loves great rock anthems). The story is a classic Boy Meets Girl, Falls in Love, Boy Loses Girl due to his pig headedness , Boy has an epiphany and wins her back. Running in the background is the threat of big business developing the Sunset Strip and demolishing the iconic bars and music halls and the 80’s counter culture of resistance and proletariat. So far pretty formulaic, however what sets this one aside from so many other pop musicals is its total abandonment of the expected norm – Rock of Ages may be serious about the music, but it certainly doesn’t take itself serious at all.
Constantly breaking the 4th wall the cast ensure that the audience are as much a part of the story as the choice of songs – they regularly display acute existentialism by referencing themselves as being actors in a musical, making for a collective sense of us all being ‘in on the joke’, together at a jam session or perhaps harking back to sitting in a friends bedroom playing records.
The cast clearly enjoy the show as much as the audience, none more so than Luke Walsh (Drew) and Rhiannon Chesterman (Sherrie), the story’s love struck leads who brilliantly toy with the perils of LA stardom and sleaze - think Brad and Janet from Rocky Horror. Both find themselves at the Bourbon Room, a rock club on the Sunset Strip ran by Dennis Dupree (Ross Dawes); Drew bussing tables and writing music, Sherrie as a wide eyed innocent looking to become an actor. Both of them end up betraying their dreams for a dose of LA reality (Drew joins a boy band and Sherrie becomes a stripper) while Dupree tries to fight off the German developers and protect his club.
Guiding the audience through the story is the narrator and Dupree’s assistant Lonny, played by the mercurial Joe Gash – Gash gives Lonny all the sexual tension of Russell Brand crossed with the over the top flamboyance of Timothy Claypole (from Rentaghost). Impish, mischievous and just deliciously naughty, Gash plays up to, and with the audience, like an adult pantomime dame, filling scene changes with surreal humour and adding in plenty of on the edge devilishness.
There are standout performances by Jenny Fitzpatrick as Justice (showing her prowess as a powerful soul singer) and Strictly star Kevin Clifton as the aging rock god Stacee Jaxx proving it’s not just dancing he excels at.
The playlist should be filed under ‘definition of jukebox musical’; it feels like the writer, Chris D’Arienzo, wanted to make a mix tape of his favourite 80’s songs and then make up a story to tell by using them. Every tune sits as a chapter heading to progress the story; there is little subtlety in which tune fits where but that is fine, we’re not here for high brow, deep thinking culture, we’re here for Rock and Roll.
Backed by a brilliant ensemble, some rather risqué costumes and a rocking live band, this is not so much a love letter to rock as it is a wild Friday night of abandonment and worry about the consequences later. So, if you like comedy, if you enjoy live music and if you love 80’s rock then this is the perfect way to reminisce about, or reacquaint yourself with, classic songs, but be warned, you may feel the need to dig out your tasselled leather jacket and big up your hair.
Any Way You Want It
Can't Fight This Feeling
Cum On Feel The Noize Don't Stop Believin' Every Rose Has Its Thorn Final Countdown Here I Go Again Hit Me With Your Best Shot I Hate Myself For Loving You I Wanna Rock I Want To Know What Love Is Keep On Loving You More Than Words Nothin' But A Good Time The Search Is Over Shadows Of The Night To Be With You Too Much Time On My Hands Waiting For A Girl Like You Wanted Dead Or Alive We Built This City We're Not Gonna Take It