THEATRE – Rock of Ages Musical – You’ll feel differently about rock ballads after this performance…
You can tell there’s a lot of anticipation for this show. Beers and wines in hand, the energy in the theatre is high and audience members have gone all out with their attire – crimped hair, band name t-shirts and bold, colourful makeup. This excitement greatly channels the hype and fervour of the eighties, where epic ballads and powerful guitar riffs have left a generation longing to relive the hard rock glory days. Enter Rock of Ages…
The opening scene sets the pace of the show. Within moments, the grungy and rebellious nature of the Los Angeles’ sunset strip materialises, evoked by the set’s backdrop of Dennis’ ‘Bourbon Room’ bar, the scadily clad performers, and the seductive and highly suggestive choreography. A mashup of Quiet Riot’s cover of ‘Feel the Noize’, David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ and Poison’s ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ sounds out, and the actors are quickly but surely getting their audience in the mood, sending endorphins soaring and nostalgia flaring.
Admittedly, the first ten minutes of the show are somewhat chaotic when it comes to looking beyond the routines and neon lights to make sense of the storyline. But this quickly gains momentum, placing young country girl, ‘Sherrie’ (Danielle Hope) as the protagonist who moves to Hollywood to become an actress. Somewhat predictably, she lands a job as a waitress at the Bourbon Room where she encounters a struggling musician, ‘Drew’ (Luke Walsh). While it’s not hard to guess how the story develops, the humour and delivery interjected with vocally-dazzling numbers makes it both engaging and an easy-watch. Moreover, the show has a running subplot, that follows ‘Regina’ (Rhiannon Chesterman) and her army of protestors attempting to thwart ‘Hertz’s’ (Vas Constanti) plans to demolish the sunset strip and the Bourbon Room.
The mashup and melodic combos cleverly lend to the storytelling of the various subplots, permitting different events to happen simultaneously but without confusing the audience. For example, the reprise of ‘Feel the Noize/Not Gonna Take It’ shortly before the end of Act One is ascribed to the characters of the Bourbon Room and the protestors marching the streets of LA respectively, showing two events on stage at once but presenting as a whole blended performance.
It’s unclear whether the musical pieces are creatively interjected into the plot, or whether the plot is written around the songs, but what emerges is a whole new way of comprehending the well-known numbers. Songs such as ‘Anyway You Want It’ takes on a new form as ‘Venus’ nightclub owner Justice (Zoe Birkett) teaches Sherrie how to be a stripper and what to say to customers, and ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’; formerly a dreamy ballad of romance by Foreigner but now reinterpreted in a rendition by Sherrie as she entices rockstar Stacee Jaxx (Sam Ferriday) to sleep with her. Perhaps surprisingly, the songs are far from ruined, arguably due to the comic value they add to the show and the incredible vocals of all actors. It’s actually difficult to decipher which performer had the best voice, as they all seemed to possess the quality to vivaciously belt out ballads note for note.
Despite there being many contenders for best performance, the most thrilling scene features Hertz’s son, ‘Franz’. The character has hinted at being gay throughout the show, but insists he is just German and is in love with the rock and roll advocate and defender of the LA strip, Regina. Franz finally confronts his father’s plans with a colourful rendition and literal interpretation of Pat Benetar’s metaphoric ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’, ripping off his suit mid-performance to reveal a striped rainbow leotard underneath and leaving audiences screaming with applause and laughter.
The show continues to be daring throughout, with persistent groping and plenty of innuendos. ‘Lonny’ is the narrator of the show, speaking to the audience during scene changes and making improvised and ad hoc jokes consistently. Played by Lucas Rush, ‘Lonny’ justifiably got the loudest cheers as Rock of Ages drew to a close, while the beloved Zoe Birkett came a close second.
Leaving the theatre wrapped in a rejuvenated sentiment for the soundtrack to the eighties, audiences exited on a high. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rock of Ages is that it remains original, without necessarily having original scores (mashups aside) or an imaginative plot. Much of its quality comes from the way the story is told – full of wisecracks and comicality, which is credited to the whole creative team and cast. While you know you’re not seeing the music legends like Europe or Journey live, Rock of Ages has such a fascinating atmosphere and transcendent energy that it truly feels as if you’re coming out of an epic rock concert. NB – dig out you favourite power anthems for the ride home!
Written by Aminah Barnes on behalf of TickX, a ticket search engine comparing events such as theatre, gigs and club nights across the UK.